Christian Religion is Not Enough

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I just finished a book called, Unveiling Grace, by Lynn K. Wilder. It’s the true story of a family finding their way out of Mormonism and into a relationship with the real Jesus. Amazingly, Lynn and her husband were converts to Mormonism as adults even though they were exposed to Christianity as children. Their story proves the burden on my heart.

Christian religion is not enough. Attending church or Sunday school is not enough. Living a “good life” is not enough.

I’m afraid the corporate American church is horribly broken.

I’ve met a lot of people lately that agree with me. People who have left, and people who have stayed. Frustrated, bitter, cynical, hurting people. It’s not okay that so many people have been damaged by an institution that is supposed to be the body of Christ!

The world, is lost…broken…dying. Have you listened to the news lately? It’s terrifying. And we, people Jesus asked to be salt and light, don’t seem to have the real answers.

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The answer isn’t in bigger, fancier, more awesome mega churches with hip pastors, talented worship bands, fog machines, relcaimed wood stages, or trendy coffee bars.

The solution will never be found in sticking to the “old time religion,” the KJV Bible version, and whatever other standards and rules we want to impose on people.

The answer is not to focus on social justice issues. People can have equality, clean water, and physical freedom, but still spend their eternity separated from God.

The solution is not moralism. Yelling about abortion, the LGBTQ+ movement, or pornography does not show God’s love and grace. There are many very moral people who have never met Jesus.

The answer is not to become culturally relevant by discarding passages of the Bible that don’t fit with our ideology. Human reasoning and intellect is not the ultimate source of truth.

So, what is the answer? What is the solution to the brokenness within the church and within our own hearts?

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” Matthew 7:13-14.

Growing up, I thought this verse was talking about worldly, sinful people waltzing down the wide road of death. While good, moral, spiritual people stuck to the hard, narrow road of life. But who was Jesus talking to here? Very spiritual people who had been given the word of God. An ethnic group called “God’s chosen ones.”  Men who had memorized the first five books of the Bible by the time they were twelve. Yeah…

So, what is this narrow gate? This hard way? Maybe it’s not a what…maybe it’s a WHO.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me‘” John 14:6.

It’s Jesus, you guys. It’s always been Jesus, and it will always be Jesus.

Jesus is the only solution to the brokenness in the church. Have you met Him? Do you know Him?

True Christianity is not a moral code, or a Sunday service, or an ideology.

  • It’s an encounter with a man who is also God.
  • It’s a door into healing and restoration of our most broken parts.
  • It’s a lifestyle because we have been changed from the inside out.

I’m afraid that there are a lot of people who sit in church on Sunday, and do their “good Christian” things, but have never met Jesus.

We can slap on some spiritual paint, add some emotional glitter, and think we are good. But, without the real Jesus, we have NOTHING.

Jesus isn’t just part of Christianity. Jesus IS Christianity.

Do you really KNOW Jesus? Do you believe that you can?

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If your version of Jesus is boring and mundane…if thinking about him makes you say, “meh,” then you haven’t met the real Jesus. If the grace of salvation seems unimpressive and dull…if you “already know everything” about it, then maybe you need to question if you really understand.

Where do you start? Have an honest look into your own heart. What does Christianity mean to you? And then seek to know Jesus. Read the gospels with childlike curiosity. Who was/is He? The answer will transform your life.

 

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Feeling the Stretch

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The shriveled clumps of grass clung weakly to the dirt. Brown and brittle, they crunched under my feet. It hadn’t rained in weeks. Everything was dry and dusty. Just walking around kicked up so much dirt that a light tan film constantly covered my feet and legs. My favorite summer camp was quickly turning into a desert.

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We were desperate for some rain!

“I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” Psalm 143:6.

I knew firsthand what it meant to be in a parched land and desire water. But what did it mean to long for God like that?

“I stretch out my hand” When is the last time you reached for something, really reached and felt the stretch? As adults we don’t do this very often. We can usually just grab what we want pretty easily. Even at church, if we feel brave enough to raise our hands during worship, we don’t normally stretch them out to God.

I walked through the dry, dusty field at camp and I thought about being as desperate for God as I currently was for rain. Then I did it. I stretched out my hands. There is humility in stretching out to God…even a little bit of fear. Because we are admitting that we can’t reach by ourselves. We are showing a need.

What if God doesn’t meet us?

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God will meet us! Look at some of His words,

“’You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all of your heart I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14.

“…that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is not actually far from each one of us.” Acts 17:26-28.

When I stretched out my hands to Him, felt the strain in my fingers and the pull in my elbow, He was right there. I’m desperate for God. I can’t live without Him. I need Him in the same way that plants need the rain. He knows that, but I need to remind myself. So, I stretch. Sometimes when I’m feeling brave at church I’ll lift my hand up just a little bit higher until I can feel it. Sometimes it’s in the car when I’m listening to the radio.

You should try it.

There is just something freeing and beautiful about admitting how much you need God. Be cautious, or just fling your arms up, but do it. Tell Him, “I stretch out my hands to you! My soul thirsts for you like a parched (that means really dry) land.”

God will send His rain!

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More than a Follower

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It might just be me, having been raised in legalistic Christianity, but I struggle with the way discipleship is often portrayed. I feel like there is this heavy emphasis on what we are supposed to DO as a disciple even from mainstream pastors and teachers.

Follow * Deny Yourself * Take Up Your Cross * Be Like Jesus

These statements, or at least the thoughts behind them, ARE in the Bible. And they aren’t wrong. But I think something is missing. Or rather, Someone.

There has to be more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than just action verbs focused on our behavior. There is more! Check out this “Jesus encounter”  from John 1

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God.”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed him. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.” John 1:35-39

According to Bible scholars, this is most likely NOT the time these two men became disciples of Jesus. “Followed Jesus” simply means they literally followed him. I LOVE this story…might be a little obsessed in fact. 🙂

Jesus is walking by, just doing his thing, going about his business. And John, knowing who Jesus is, points him out to a couple of his friends using a strange name. He calls Jesus “The Lamb of God”. The disciples are curious. Who is this man? So, they follow him. (My imagination starts running wild.)

Jesus turns around, and being God, already knows these guys, already loves them, already has every moment of their lives planned out. He can’t help but smile as he asks them what they want. They want to know where he is staying…basically inviting themselves over for dinner. With a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, Jesus says, “Come and see.” He doesn’t even tell them! He just invites them to come with him, to walk with him, and spend time together. They haven’t “believed in him for salvation”…they haven’t “committed themselves to him”…they haven’t “made him the Lord of their lives”… Yet Jesus invites these seeking men to meet with him, to get to know him. They end up spending the evening hanging out with Jesus. After those few life-changing hours, what passionate conclusion do they come to?

“We have found the Messiah!” John 1:41

This is what we are missing! There are way too many people trying to be Jesus’ disciples without ever having met him. Sure, we believe good, Biblical, intellectual things about Him, we know a lot ABOUT Him, but we do not have an experiential, intimate relationship with Jesus. We are trying to be like him, trying to copy him, at a distance. But Jesus wants more! Jesus died so that we could have SO MUCH MORE!!!

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What if discipleship looked more like this?

Meet * Become Mesmerized * Follow * Listen * Believe * Be Changed

What if you met Jesus, like really met him? What if you took whatever time you needed to search the gospels and actually get to know this crazy, radical 1st century rabbi who changed the world? I guarantee that the more you learn, the more mesmerized you will become.

Dig into the culture of Jesus’ time (thank you, Internet!) and be even more amazed. Follow Jesus through the pages of the New Testament. Picture yourself there; imagine being the people he interacts with; listen to his message. Let his words sink deep into your soul. As you believe, you will be changed. You will want to follow him and be like him, not out of a sense of duty but one of burning desire!

Yes, there is denial of self, there is letting go of sin, there is choosing to let Jesus change you. But when you KNOW him, and you are in a relationship with him, it’s different. Obeying him is easier when you know his character and trust his heart. Letting go is easier when you believe in his love. Everything is easier when he is right beside you giving you the strength and power through his Holy Spirit. It’s no longer your effort, your action verbs…you are doing it together!

No one can make this happen for anyone else. You have to want it. You have to seek him.

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You’ve been following him for weeks, maybe even months now. It’s hard to keep track of time. You’ve watched him do miracles, tasted the food he made from nothing, listened to his stories and pondered their meanings. It used to be enough to just be part of the larger crowd, but lately you have felt a longing for something more. You have found yourself jealous of Jesus’ friends who stay with him after everyone else goes home. But would he want you? Would you be welcome?

One day, you linger after the crowds leave. You feel naked and exposed, no longer “one of the group”. Slowly you approach the friends gathered around the fire, talking and laughing. They see you. He sees you. You freeze, but Jesus stands and walks toward you. His eyes, so full of life, passion, emotion, love, fire…it’s like he’s looking into your soul, terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Then he smiles and says hello. You say hello. He asks your name, but you have this feeling that he already knows. You tell him anyway.

The smile that breaks across his face as he says your name, destroys any doubt. His love overwhelms you. Jesus wants you, it’s so obvious, and all he’s said is your name. Then he asks a question, “What do you want?”

“I want to know you. Can I spend time with you? Can we talk? Can I follow you?”

Of course the answer is yes.  It’s all he’s ever wanted. With his arm around your shoulders, Jesus leads you back to the fire. It happened! You left the crowd and became a friend!

 

 

But We Need Jesus (A Book Update)

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I’m sitting here at my favorite hipster coffee shop, feeling the vibe…feeling creative and artsy, and hoping to be inspired. I’m praying that I can explain what I’m thinking in a way that will make sense. 🙂

Friends, there are so many confused and broken people in this world! And we who call ourselves Christians have the answer for them…we have the good news about Jesus…the best news, the most amazing news! BUT…

It has to be more than just information.

Because logically, it doesn’t totally make sense. Intellectually, it’s kind of offensive. Culturally, it’s becoming irrelevant.

Words can’t convince people. Arguments can’t convince people.

But a life changed, overwhelming love and grace, total faith in something we cannot explain…things like that, proof of the Spirit of Jesus living inside of us…these are the things that make people wonder and think, even if they still question and doubt.

I’ve had three conversations in the past few weeks that are sticking with me in ways I didn’t expect.

  1. I was thanked for being kind by a person who has recently had Christians say terrible things to them because of something they are dealing with.
  2. I shared the good news of Jesus with a teen and listened as they prayed, trusting Jesus as their Savior, witnessed tears and smiles as they became a new creation.
  3. I listened, asked questions, and then shared my beliefs about Jesus with someone who believes in God but finds the Bible difficult to take literally.

These are my favorite conversations, my favorite types of experiences. They make me crave more. It’s amazing!

Confession time: I have been allowing doubts and fears to stop me from following God. I have allowed people’s opinions of me and my abilities to stop me from obeying Jesus. Ever since the agent I was working with turned me down, I haven’t even looked at my book proposal. It’s been three months. I let people shape my identity instead of Jesus.

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But these conversations the past few weeks…they are reminding me that I have a story to share. I have a passion and a message. His name is Jesus.

I don’t need to be perfect to share this message of love and hope, I just need to be willing. I will never have it all together, but that’s okay! I’m not supposed to…after all the message isn’t about me, it’s about my Savior who does the forgiving and saving, and shows the grace and love. I need Him just as much as anyone else!!

My heart for the lost world is for them to meet Jesus.

My heart for Christians is for them to actually meet Jesus and be able to share Him with the world.

I want you to so believe and experience Jesus that He completely changes your life. I want you to understand your salvation so well that it is effortless for you to share it with others. I want you to be at a place where you could sit in front of an entire coffee shop of people and talk about Jesus in such a real and compelling way that they would listen even if they didn’t believe…

Christian brothers and sisters, I want you to believe the truth about who you are in Christ with your heart, not just your mind. I want it to be life and not just knowledge. Not rules, not standards, not religion, but LIFE. Because we need the real Jesus. And this world needs the real Jesus. We are dying without Him.

And so, I am going to pursue this whole book thing again…until God clearly closes the door or until He flings it open. Please pray for me! Especially that I will believe the truth about myself. who I am in Christ, and not allow my identity to be shaped by people and their opinions of me.

 

Chased by Grace – How God’s Word Changed a Life

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I love hearing stories (testimonies) about people finding Jesus, so I am going to be sharing a few of my favorites with you! You can find them under the “And Then I Met Jesus” category.

This first story is from my husband’s great-uncle Jim. The italicized words are my summary and the regular words are Uncle Jim’s. I hope you enjoy this account of the relentless pursuit of Jesus and the power of His living Word.

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Jim was raised in a loving, Christian home, exposed to the Bible, and taught the difference between right and wrong. He even married a wonderful, Christian girl who tried to keep him grounded and encouraged him to go to church, but he wasn’t interested.

“I suppose when it comes right down to it, I was completely without excuse. Like many, I ran away from the very thing needed for a fulfilled life; I ran away from God. I spent the first fifty-four years of my life without any desire for God. I was such a beach person and ocean enthusiast; I use to think I enjoyed that recreation because I had evolved from an ocean creature and was just returning to my origins. Perhaps I was an atheist or an agnostic, who knows, all I know is that my life had moved away from God and any plan he had for me. But, God has his ways.”

Through a course of events, Jim lost his job on the East Coast and was reassigned to an office in Southern California. Nothing went smoothly, and because their house wouldn’t sell, he ended up packing his car and driving across the country by himself. Jim was looking forward to the 4-5 day drive:  the freedom to choose his route, enjoy good restaurants, and listen to great music all by himself. God had other plans.

“Within the first hour, things changed. I realized there wasn’t going to be any music coming from my radio since it was on the fritz. Unless I had cassette music, which I didn’t, it would be 4-5 days of total silence. Shortly after beginning my journey west, I pulled off the freeway to get a cup of coffee. As I pulled into the parking spot, I noticed a lady just opening up her bookstore. I went in and started to look around. Long story short, I walked out ten minutes later having purchased a set of Bible cassette tapes Old and New Testament.

Just weeks before this, Jim had been in another bookstore in Canada and purchased a book on Bible prophecy. God was beginning to move in his heart. So, what made him decide to buy the Bible cassettes?

“Regarding the cassette tapes, I remember thinking it would be a good opportunity to take a close look at what the Bible was all about, since I really hadn’t paid much attention to it before. Besides, I didn’t have much else to do for the next 4-5 days and it would be a good chance for me to check it out and see if it was true. I got back on the freeway and was a few hours into Genesis when I remembered that I hadn’t gotten my cup of coffee. That was the reason I had pulled off the freeway in the first place! It seemed a bit odd, I thought. I pulled off again and got an extra large cup to keep me going.

After several days of continuous listening to the Bible, I was getting so engrossed that I would not even get out of the car to have lunch at a restaurant. Instead, I would search for a fast food drive thru so that I could keep the tapes playing. I even felt annoyed when I had to interrupt the cassette to order my food.”

Jim found himself feeling frustrated with the Jewish people. They were so stubborn and rebellious, but God just kept loving them. It seemed clear to Jim what God wanted from the Israelites, but they were always going off in their own direction. He was intrigued when God punished them, but then forgave them, and started dealing with them in love all over again.

“I had the sense that God really loved these Jewish people more than anyone else. In fact, I think I was jealous. I remember thinking that maybe I should call my mother when I got into my motel room that night to see if we had any Jewish blood in our family somewhere. Sort of silly now that I think of it, but it just pointed out how clear the Bible was about God’s love for these people. I grew up in a Christian family, so I knew enough about the Bible to know that God had a plan for all people, not just the Jews. About the time I entered California, my Bible cassettes were getting into the New Testament. That picture of God’s love for all people became clear, but I was not ready to believe it, not yet.”

At, the end of the fifth day, Jim made it to Long Beach, CA where he had an extended-stay hotel room waiting for him near his new job. Instead of going to his hotel though, Jim continued to drive around the local area because he didn’t want to stop listening to the New Testament. It finally dawned on him that he could purchase a portable cassette player and finish the Bible in his room. It was the weekend and Jim had a few days before his new job started so he was able to finish his audio Bible.

“I found a church close by that first Sunday and picked up a few Christian books to read that discussed various aspects of Christian theology. The next few weeks were a challenge for me. First, my new job was on the very fringe of my skill set. Second, I was getting frustrated with my time examining what the Bible was all about and who this God was. This was mostly due to my drinking habits.

Alcohol had become a part of Jim’s lifestyle as he spent years entertaining clients and enjoying first class flights and free drinks. After a long day at his new job, he would head back to the hotel and have a glass or two of wine as he read his new Christian books. Problem was, he would fall asleep and when he woke up the next morning everything he read was a blur. In frustration, Jim would pour the remaining wine down the sink. This became a pattern: buy a bottle of wine to enjoy with Christian books, fall asleep, wake up frustrated, and pour out the rest of the wine. Finally, he’d had enough! Jim realized that he needed Jesus.

“It was clear that God loves each one of his creations and had this wonderful plan for their lives. Every morning, I would resolve to take wine out of my life so I could understand more clearly what his plan was. One morning, after again not being able to remember clearly what I had read, I got down on my knees and cried and asked God to take away my urge for alcohol. I told him I could not do it on my own. I asked him to be a real part of my life and to take control. It was an emotional time for me. I was never an emotional type, but I understood my needs and my weaknesses.”

Jim saw his weakness and sin and understood his need. He believed in Jesus as his own Savior (John 3:16-18) and he found eternal life. The Spirit of Jesus Christ came into Jim and began to change him just as He has promised.

“Several weeks later, as I finished one of my books and was making notes in the margin, I realized it had been a few days since I’d had a glass of wine. It seemed strange that I did not notice it sooner. I can’t recall how many days of struggle I continued in before the grip had been broken. All I know is that I was spending more time reading Christian literature and waking up clear-minded in the morning remembering what I had read. God works in his own timing.

God has certainly changed my life and brought new meaning and purpose. It’s been twenty years now and I cannot thank him enough for his grace and forgiveness. My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28. After I gave my life to Christ, I immediately felt I had wasted my earlier years. I had spent 54 years serving my shallow desires and worldly lifestyle. But Romans 8:28 suggested to me that all things, including my early years, work for good to those that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. That verse helped me put my life in perspective. And indeed, God’s word is powerful. I’ve often said that the Bible should have a warning stamped on the front cover: “Caution, read at your own risk. This book will change your life!”

Isn’t this an amazing story of God’s grace and persistence in pursuing us? I love it! I hope you have been encouraged too. The Word of God is so powerful and His love is unstoppable!

 

The Day God Became 3-D

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I was one of those good kids that Sunday School teachers love and the other kids hate. I knew all the answers, was well behaved, and proud of it. People pleasing has always been important to me. Once I knew what the expectations were, I would follow them to the best of my ability. Becoming a Pharisee was natural for me.

My brother and sister and I were homeschooled before it was even a word. We started back when homeschoolers were afraid of the big yellow bus pulling into your driveway. If my mom took us grocery shopping during school hours, the cashier would automatically ask why we weren’t in school. It was fun to tell them that we were homeschooled because their mouths would literally drop open; then they usually asked my mom something like, “Is that legal?”

I knew the Bible stories growing up, I knew all about God, Creation, Jesus dying on the cross, etc. But it was two-dimensional knowledge to me. God was a name on the page of a book. This all changed one day when I was fifteen years old.

Both of my parents had real relationships with Jesus. This was something that they modeled to us. And because of them, I chose to trust Jesus as my Savior when I was seven. That was before the “crazy days” started. By the time I was fifteen, we were involved in our cultish group and church. I was performing with the best of them…having daily devotions, living a life of rules and standards, and always ready to answer the question, “What is God doing in your life?” But I didn’t really know Him. Not yet.

The day God became 3-D started with a normal (to my family) school assignment. My mom gave me a list of God’s names and told me to pray them to Him. So I went up to my bedroom, and began to pray something like this. “God, you are Jehovah Jireh, you always provide for us. You are El Roi; you see everything. You are the Rock, my strength. Etc.” Suddenly, I knew that I was not alone in my bedroom. A very real God had come to hear me praise Him, and He liked it. I don’t even remember if I finished the list or not. I know I jumped up and ran downstairs to my mom screaming, “Mom, Mom, God showed up!” She just smiled this secret little smile and said, “I’ve been praying He would.”

This day changed the course of my life. God was more than just a 2-D name on a page, He was a 3-D Person and I wanted to get to know Him. My morning devotions changed; my prayers changed. I started looking for Him. I started praying to Him instead of just at Him. I started taking long walks to talk with Him. I began to realize just how much He loved me. The Bible became personal as God spoke through it to me. It was amazing!

Ultimately, this new understanding of Jesus would lead me to question the god, the standards, and the rules our church and group was telling me to follow. Eventually I would ask the question, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” and He would lead me out. But that’s another story.