When I Can’t Feel God…

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I listened as he shared his story with us. It was a privilege to be part of this sacred moment. God had redeemed so much in his life. His story was a beautiful example of grace and growth.

Then he stopped and looked down. “I’ve never admitted this before in a group.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked back up at us. “When people talk about feeling the love of God or experiencing His Presence, I don’t get it. I’ve never felt that.”

We leaned forward encouragingly as he finished his story. Afterwards, the group leader opened it up for questions and response. A well-meaning listener asked if he really wanted to feel God’s Presence and if he’d ever asked to feel it. They had suggestions for how to make it happen. The man was completely broken. He’d asked, prayed, and begged so many times and it had never “worked.”

A few years ago I would have been that well-meaning listener, and my answer would have been horrifyingly similar. But it’s not anymore. If you are someone who feels like they are missing God’s Presence, or if He seems distant, quiet, or nonexistent, please keep reading. I am not going to give you any Christianese answers or formulas, but I am going to remind you of some truth. 🙂

Paul prays an amazing prayer for the church in Ephesus in Ephesians chapter three.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” Ephesians 3:14-19.

I am obsessed with this prayer, absolutely in love! There is so much that could be unpacked. But I want you to look at the bold words “know” and “knowledge.” In the Greek they are forms of ginosko — an intimate, experiential knowledge. It’s more than just information we know in our head; it’s personal.

Jesus uses this same word in John 10 when He talks about knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing Him.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” John 10:14-15.

 

And He uses it again in John 17 when He tells us what eternal life actually is.

“And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” John 17:3.

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Jesus obviously thinks it’s possible for us to know Him in a personal, intimate way. But I don’t think that our understanding of that knowledge is the same as His. And that’s where we get tripped up…that’s where we end up feeling like it doesn’t work for us and that God is far away.

Maybe you have been to a service or conference where the worship was amazing and people (including yourself) were swept up in an experience. The lights were dim, the music swelled, hands were raised, and people cried. We declare that “the Spirit was moving tonight!” We ask people if they “felt God’s Presence?”

Was it really God? Or was it just our own emotion?

I want you to watch something amazing. This is Huge Jackman practicing for the Greatest Showman. They definitely have an emotional experience together and it’s quite moving! It even looks a bit like worship… But while beautiful and inspiring, it’s completely secular. It has nothing to do with God. Guys, if they can do it, so can we.

We can create emotional worship experiences with lights, music, and energy that have nothing to do with the actual God. We can feel things emotionally and physically that are amazing, and yet are not really the Spirit. Emotional experiences do not automatically equate to God’s Presence. How’s that for truth?

Those spiritual highs we get during a retreat or a worship set feel incredible, but they are hard to hold on to in real life. And it’s very possible that they have little to nothing to do with a connection to the Real Jesus. 

The Old Testament includes stories about a prophet named Elijah. He led a wild life and got to experience some amazing God moments. If you remember, Elijah was part of a crazy contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (1 Kings 18) After the prophets of Baal spend the entire day begging their god for fire, the Real God shows up, sends fire from heaven, and burns up a sacrifice completely soaked in water. It was pretty spectacular.

However, not long after Elijah is in the wilderness asking God to take his life. He’s exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and he just wants to die. God sustains Elijah and eventually sends him to a cave to wait for Him. While Elijah waits in the cave a terrific wind passes by, but God is not in the wind. Next there is an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. Then comes a fire, but God is not in the fire. Finally Elijah hears a low whisper…and immediately he knows it is God.

I think too often we look for wind, and fire, and earthquakes as an experience of God’s Presence and we forget that He is actually the quiet whisper.

Let me remind you of some truth.

  • Didn’t God say He would never leave us? (Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5-6)
  • Didn’t Jesus promise to be with us always? (Matthew  28:20)
  • Didn’t Jesus say that He would send us a Helper? (John 14:25-26; 15:26)
  • Isn’t the Holy Spirit our guarantee of salvation? (1 Corinthians 1:22)

Here is the simple truth.

If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then He has given us His Spirit to dwell with us forever. It doesn’t matter if we can “feel” Him or not. He is with us. He doesn’t go away. 🙂

If the Spirit dwells within us, and He is just as much God as Jesus and the Father, then we have God with us always…in all His glory and power and majesty.

I think we often look too far away, and for too much of an experience. The Real Spirit is as close as our next breath. He is here with us, quiet, gentle, whispering to our hearts, giving us strength for the day, telling us truth, and pointing us heavenward. We might not be able to feel the Spirit in the moment, but looking back we can see His shadow and we can hear His footsteps.

I’m not against experiences, they just need to go in their place. When I stop to consider Jesus, and remember the Spirit, my body often has a physical response. Tears come to my eyes, or I feel tingles. But that physical response is not the Spirit…that’s just my body responding to truth. Jesus and His Spirit is just as real and just as close even if I don’t get tears or feel tingles.

One final thought. Everyone is different. We experience human relationships differently. Why shouldn’t we also experience our relationship with God differently? It’s okay if you don’t “feel” God like some people do. You are probably experiencing Him in your own way…look for that. This is about you and the Real God. He’s pursuing you in the way He knows you will respond to best. Let go of guilt and shame. It’s not from God! Let Him be who He really is and not who we think He should be.


OUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL RESPONSES DO NOT MAKE GOD ANY MORE OR LESS REAL THAN HE ALREADY IS.


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Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

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I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.

We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.

I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.

As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand.  But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.

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Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.

How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.

  • Religious Christianity

“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.

We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.

The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. 🙂

  • Lack of Education

The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.

The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.

  • Fear

Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.

Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.”  Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.

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Let me just close with some thoughts.

  • Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
  • Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
  • If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.

I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! 🙂

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The Only Condemnation was in the Commentary

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

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

Or is He?

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

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

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

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

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

But, is that really important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chasing Eden

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Something isn’t right. We know it in the very core of our being. We see it every day in the news, in our relationships, and in the creation around us. We are surrounded by death.

Beauty and brokenness. Hope and disappointment. The contradictions overwhelm us.

Life is a struggle. Relationships hurt. We sense the wrongness.

death-2998446_1920 (1)There is an emptiness within us that we cannot fill…not with money or possessions, not with job promotions or titles, not with exercise or food, not with sex, alcohol, or our drug of choice. We dim the ache by staying busy and avoiding silence. We appease the longing with social media and various forms of entertainment. We try.

Our longing isn’t just spiritual or metaphorical. We can tangibly and physically feel the ache for something that we can’t exactly explain.

It seems like religion should make a difference, believing and doing the right things, but even that falls short of satisfying our emptiness. This is shameful to admit…because people say that God is the answer. We hear Christianese phrases like “there is a god-shaped hole in our hearts” and we wonder what’s wrong with us. If this is true, then why isn’t religion filling our hole?

Once upon a time, there was a garden…Eden.

In that garden, for however briefly it lasted, God walked with the people He had created in His own image. They knew what His footsteps sounded like. The people lived in perfect intimacy with God and with each other…with nothing between them and without any shame. But they lost it, and humanity has been chasing Eden ever since.

Do you believe that? Or is Eden just a pretty myth?

We do ourselves a disservice by dismissing Eden. That garden explains everything to me.

I was created to live in Eden…created for an intimate relationship with my Father God and with the people around me. Created to live in a perfect world where everything works according to it’s design. In the depths of my broken soul, that is what I long for…that is why I am never satisfied. I was made for more. You were too.

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We are magnificent creations trapped in broken bodies in a corrupted creation. Everything and everyone has been affected by sin and death. Destruction is a part of life.

No amount of religious activity, or busyness, or social media, or money, or status, or anything else will ever satisfy our ache for Eden. We will live with that ache until we die. But there is hope!

Too often salvation gets presented as a list of behaviors.

  • We do bad things (sin).
  • Those bad things need punishment.
  • Jesus died on the cross to save us.
  • Pray this prayer.
  • Now go do good things to show that you really love Jesus.

Wow! That’s not even close.

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Salvation is about restoration.

Yes, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. But before they behaved badly, they were already doubting God and listening to lies. Their perfect relationship with Him was already breaking. It wasn’t a surprise to God…He knew this was going to happen and He made them anyway. Why? I haven’t a clue!! God is way too intense and crazy for me to figure out. 😀

Salvation isn’t about our behavior. It’s about God’s unending grace, love, and forgiveness.

Jesus came and showed us WHO God IS…face to face. Shocking the religious people, amazing the crowds, and touching the broken, Jesus reached into our hearts and began to restore. He started by restoring our concept of God. God is not who our doubts and fears tell us He is…He is only better, bigger, and more good.

Jesus then grabbed sin and death around the neck and annihilated them. He effortlessly destroyed them once and for all. Jesus set us free.

But even better than seeing God face to face and having Him be nothing like we feared He was, and even better than being set free from the power of sin and death, Jesus put Eden into our hearts.

The Holy Spirit, that mysterious third member of the Trinity, comes to dwell within everyone who chooses to put their faith in Jesus. God within His creation. The possibility of oneness with our Maker. And the restoration continues. The Holy Spirit never leaves us…no matter what it feels like. He empowers us, teaches us, and begins to remake us into the amazing creation we were intended to be. We get to dwell with God NOW and for eternity. That’s salvation!

It’s more than religion, more than behavior; more than belief. It’s a new reality.

What does experiencing Eden in our hearts look like? I don’t know. I think it’s different for everyone. God is not limited to one cookie cutter experience. There isn’t a right Sunday School answer. This isn’t about religion. 🙂

For me, it means embracing the discontent and reminding myself that this is my pull towards eternity. It means recognizing that there is more to life than the physical things around me. It means accepting the reality of a mysterious Spirit and learning to know Him. It means giving value to the people I run into every day.

In these truths my heart can find hope, peace, and satisfaction. ❤ What does Eden mean to you?

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The Value of Losing Our Faith

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I’m not sure what I believe these days.

I think I’m losing faith.

I don’t even like going to church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who was the Real Deborah?

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I struggle with the idea that we small, “wise” humans can decide which parts of the Bible are no longer true. But I have discovered something that irks me even more. “Truths” that get added to the Bible at some point and then keep getting taught for generations even when they aren’t actually there.

I recently read the story of Deborah the prophetess and judge in Judges 4. Initially thinking I knew the story, I quickly became puzzled. Some of it was missing!

While raised in ultra-conservative patriarchy I’d been taught that Deborah was wrong to be a woman in leadership. She was only leading because there were no men available, and that her leadership was actually a curse. I thought that Barak was supposed to be the judge, but because he was too wimpy, Deborah took over. None of that was in the passage.

I did a search to see where else Deborah is mentioned in Scripture. It’s only Judges 4-5.

Not only is Deborah not condemned for being a judge, she is called a prophetess. Last I checked there were only two kinds of prophets in Scripture – false prophets and true ones. She is obviously not a false prophet, so that must make her a true one. Becoming a prophet is not something you get to choose. God picks you, gifts you, and fills you with His words. Things were starting to feel sketchy to me.

I looked further into her interactions with Barak. He was the military leader not Deborah. She called him and gave him a word from the LORD. He was nervous and asked her to come with him to battle. Deborah agreed to come, but it never mentions that she fought. She didn’t take over. Deborah lived as the strong woman God created her to be and inspired greatness in those around her.

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The truth about Deborah filled me with delight! I finished my coffee and chalked the whole thing up to one more crazy lie I’d been taught back in the day. But then something else happened.

My husband and I had a date night, and over our craft beer and fried pickles I asked him what he thought about Deborah the judge. You need to understand that my husband is my total opposite. He wasn’t raised in church and didn’t start a relationship with Jesus until he was sixteen. After graduating from public high school, he spent four years at two different Bible schools. They were conservative in theology, but incredibly tame compared to what I experienced in my legalistic Christian cult.

Do you know what my husband told me? That Deborah was only the judge because there were no available men to lead. What? In shock, I explained what I’d found that morning and we ended up having a friendly debate (that was finally solved on Google).

We found ultra-conservative blogs denouncing Deborah. But we also discovered many other articles, such as this excellent one from Bible.org “Deborah: The Woman God Uses” that celebrated the things God did through her. It didn’t take much convincing.

Horrified, my husband exclaimed, “Gothard’s ideas are everywhere!” As much as I’d love to blame him, I know my old cult leader (Bill Gothard) isn’t the mastermind behind every oppressively conservative view of life. But if not, then what?

I’ll be honest, this discovery about the real Deborah has rocked my husband and I. It makes us upset and skeptical. Why are so many things taught in conservative, evangelical Christianity that aren’t actually from Scripture? How do we know what to believe? And where are these lies coming from? No wonder people get disgusted and just chuck the whole thing out the window!

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I’m not willing to leave the cores of Christianity. But I want my beliefs to be based on Scripture, and I want to stick with the real Jesus. I really believe that Evangelical Christianity needs an overhaul. We need passionate, discerning, truth-loving people to look into tradition and opinion and figure out which beliefs are solid and which need to get trashed. The lies about Deborah need to go in the garbage.

Deborah was a wonderful, gifted, wise, discerning woman who heard from God. She wasn’t a curse, and she didn’t lead just because some man failed. Deborah used her skills and abilities to guide people into the truth. God designed her on purpose, gifted her for “such a time as this,” and never, NOT ONCE, condemned her for being female.

As a strong, passionate woman who has spent most of my life trying to push down and contain my personality and abilities, this gives me immense joy. 🙂

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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P.S. I was in the middle of writing this blog post when I came across the post Beth Moore wrote yesterday: A Letter to My Brothers. Wow! Take the time to read it. It’s powerful and confirming. I feel the Spirit moving!

 

 

 

 

The Vine and the Branches…But No Religion

 

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I had a friend ask me a question yesterday that sent me on a wild journey of thought. What I found surprised me, and I’m super excited to share it with you! Here is her question.

“How do we attach and re-attach ourselves to the Vine without it being works?”

She was referring to John 15 and the familiar passage about abiding in the Vine. Jesus is speaking.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:1-5.

I have heard this passage preached in a very works-based way. I have also heard it preached less “worksy” but with a checklist at the end…Ten Things to do to Abide in the Vine, etc. Abide isn’t a word we use anymore in everyday English. What does the word even mean, let alone an abstract concept like abiding in Christ?

As I read the passage again this morning, four little words jumped out at me. And it changed everything. 

Abide in me, and I in you” John 15:4

The grape vine grows down into the ground, sucking up water and nutrients, providing life for the branches. The branches are not doing anything. They aren’t trying desperately to hold onto the vine, trying to remain in it, trying to stay attached. They are just automatically part of it. The vine’s life and strength are in the branches. And because of that life, the branches are able to bear fruit.

We are so quick, as humans, to look for what we have to do. Religion, the business of appeasing gods, comes naturally to us. But that desire to appease is part of our old nature, not our new one. We have to remember that!

tori-1976609_1920I really believe that religion, more than anything, is the true enemy of God, especially within Christianity. It’s subtle, it distracts; it makes us believe we have effort to offer. It takes away from the beauty and wonder of the free gift. And it turns a life-giving friendship into dutiful servanthood.

Can I stretch your mind a little?

What if true Christianity isn’t about a checklist, or behaviors, or a list of rules to follow? What if it is about a restored life? What if, because we have been restored and reconnected, our lives are transformed? Not because of effort or determination or discipline, but because a new life-force flows within us? The life of the Vine.

Do you believe that? Did you feel your heart give a leap of hope? That’s the Spirit. Our life-force. 🙂

Here is the simple and beautiful gospel.

We have all been broken by sin and that sin separates us from God. Our very core has been corrupted, and the ones God created to be His friends are now His enemies. But He would not let us go…His love is far too great! So Jesus came and died, paying the price for sin once and for all. He rose again demonstrating His power over death and sin. If we will admit that we need forgiveness and trust in Jesus alone to save us, we will be restored.

It gets better! Not only has God forgiven all of our sins through the death of Jesus, He gives us His very Spirit to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit is all about restoration and transformation. If we will let Him, He will not only show us our broken places, He will empower us to heal. He will transform us into the image of God we were meant to be.

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True abiding has nothing to do with action or works, and everything to do with resting in our position. We don’t DO anything. We accept salvation. We accept the Spirit. We accept the life, and the transformation, and the power He offers. We accept His friendship, and we live as friends. We believe the truth about God and ourselves. As we rest in the Vine and in the Power that flows through Him, we will automatically bear fruit. Because that’s what happens with healthy branches who are connected to the vine.

And where does following God in obedience fit with all of this?

“Obedience is the natural offspring of trust-motivated love. All true obedience arises out of the heart and is attended by a deep inner sense of personal delight. You could call it obedience, or you could call it friendship.” – Pastor Ty Gibson

I love that! ❤ ❤ And I would love to hear your thoughts too.

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The God We Long For…and the Real Jesus

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A couple of days ago I threw a few scattered thoughts out on Facebook.

“What if God cares more about your heart than your outward actions?

What if He wants to heal your deepest wounds and messes more than He wants your behaviors to change?

What if He wants you to understand yourself…your deep needs and longings and the things that trigger you?

What if He cares about ALL of you, the visible and invisible parts?

What if, instead of expecting you to get your act cleaned up, Jesus wants to sit with you in your mess? Sift through it? Sort it out?

What if He is totally okay with that? What if that brings Him joy?

Would that give you HOPE?

It makes my heart sing!!!

Those words resonated with you. I love when the Holy Spirit is doing the same thing at the same time in more than one of us. 🙂

This is the kind of God our souls long for…and the kind that we are afraid doesn’t exist.

But. He. Does.

There are a lot of Jesus impostors out there, even among Christianity, even in the church. This shouldn’t surprise us. Think about it, the most religious people in Jesus’ day completely missed God walking in the flesh right in front of them. Not only did they miss Him, they hated Him, and eventually had Him killed. Ironic. Religion killed God.

But that death set us free from Religion’s power, and the Real God won!

I’d like to re-introduce you to a man named Zacchaeus.

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His profession was traitorous. His character sketchy. He definitely wasn’t a model Jewish citizen. Instead, Zacchaeus had become wealthy by working as a tax collector for the Romans and cheating his fellow Jews out of their money. His behaviors definitely didn’t line up with the Law.

Then one day Jesus was passing through the area and Zacchaeus was curious.

“…he was seeking to see who Jesus was…” Luke 19:3.

There is so much that we could unpack from these words, but the most important thing is that Zacchaeus was seeking… I love that! Fellow seekers, this gives us HOPE. 🙂

Unfortunately Zacchaeus had a height problem. Unable to even catch a glimpse of Jesus, he climbed a tree. Perched at the edge of the road, isolated from the crowd, Zacchaeus was ready for Jesus to pass by.

Jesus was also seeking. He was seeking for a messed up, too short, social traitor and religious outcast. Jesus deliberately stopped by the tree, looked up at Zacchaeus, (smiled I’m sure) and said:

“Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down, for I must stay at your house today” Luke 19:5.

What?? The crowd’s grumbling reaction tells you how crazy this was! Jesus just boldly announced that He is going to intentionally hang out with an obvious sinner.

Jesus doesn’t give Zacchaeus a list of rules to follow. He doesn’t condemn him, or reject him, or tell him to clean up his act. Jesus seeks, notices, affirms, accepts, loves, and demonstrates His desire to build a relationship with Zacchaeus. And something interesting happens.

Face to face with the real God, Zacchaeus falls apart. 

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” Luke 19:8.

Jesus is delighted! Not because of the changed behaviors, not because of the list of right things Zacchaeus is going to do, but because salvation has been accomplished. Zacchaeus’ heart has been won.

“Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” Luke 19:10.

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. That is amazing news!!

Because that’s me! I’m lost. I need seeking and saving. That’s you too. We are desperately lost, desperately broken, but it’s okay because we are also desperately loved. We are insanely and scandalously adored! Jesus came specifically to seek and save us. He wants all of us, every bit of our broken pieces. He wants to forgive our sin and gently put us back together.

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Coming face to face with the real Jesus will change us. But contrary to Religion’s beliefs, change isn’t the goal. The goal is knowing Jesus. Experiencing Him, believing Him, and allowing Him to make us into the very best version of ourselves.

Religion, even Christian religion, is always about behavior, always about control. And religion never gets God right…because it doesn’t understand who He really is.

The real Jesus doesn’t control. He doesn’t motivate us with guilt and shame. He draws us with loving-kindness. He patiently woos us. He seeks and saves the lost. 🙂

 

Doesn’t that make your heart fill with hope? Explode with love? Jesus is amazing, and mind blowing, and crazy, and I don’t even know what to say! But I’m gonna let Him love me. Will you?

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Finding Answers at Book Club?

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Why are so many of us, former Church People, so cynical and cranky? Even those of us, like me, who haven’t actually left the church? What’s wrong with us?

I’ve wondered about that (and what to do about it) for a while now. Thanks to Mike Cosper, I finally have an answer.

Who would’ve thought it would happen at Book Club? Who would’ve thought I’d ever end up at Book Club? I guess that’s what happens when you make new friends and ask the Holy Spirit what to do next.

I am NOT a literary. I’m not really even a writer, at least not personality wise. That fact is made painfully obvious at every writer’s conference I attend. I actually prefer Math over English because it is concrete and has nothing to do with people’s opinions.

herbal-2562218_1920But there I was, tucked into my corner of the couch, knees curled, a mug of hot tea cupped in my hands, listening to the Book Club members talk about pencils. Apparently there is a store in New York City dedicated to pencils and they were very excited. Then the topic switched to pens and the size pen point they like to use on their paper because of the way it feels. They might as well have been speaking Mandarin. I was that lost. I like black pens. Black pens that write smoothly without leaving excess ink on my paper. And that’s all I got. 😉

It’s good to get out of my comfort zone. Book Club is good for me. It’s good to listen to truly literary people talk about authors I’ve never heard of, and pencil stores in New York City, and favorite pen sizes. And it’s okay that I can’t contribute to those conversations. I’m learning that we need all sorts of people in our lives! We cannot live in a bubble with people who only think like us. It’s not healthy. We need to be stretched in order to grow.

Besides, we are going through a book by Mike Cosper called, Recapturing the Wonder – Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World.

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Reading the title is what convinced me that I needed to join Book Club. I want transcendent faith! Who doesn’t? But as I started reading the introduction, my heart lurched. Trigger words!! This book was actually about spiritual disciples? Sneaky Mike Cosper!

I have struggled with the concept of spiritual disciplines ever since I left my legalistic church/mindset. Sure, I practice some of them, but I don’t call them disciplines. Spiritual Disciplines were too often used in an attempt to impress God and other people with our spirituality. Maybe I didn’t want to go to Book Club after all.

I resisted the urge to pitch the book across the room and kept reading. Near the end of Chapter One, I found this gem.

“But if our starting place with God is the radical grace extended through Jesus, then the spiritual disciplines are invitations, not obligations – ways of being with God, not appeasing Him.”

The first two chapters ended up being a breath of fresh air. Redeeming. Freeing. Then I got to Chapter Three and this huge light bulb exploded in my brain! Everything was weaving together and it all made sense.

We are spiritual beings living in a disenchanted world. Our modern culture doesn’t embrace the supernatural and mysterious anymore. We have logical answers and a scientific understanding for everything. It’s cut, and dry, and over. And this disenchanted world is totally unsatisfying. We long for more.

The Christian culture has bought into this idea too. We don’t expect God to actually show up, so we go overboard to “make an experience” in our church services, retreats, youth events, etc. As Mike says,

“If we’ve primed ourselves to live in a world where God doesn’t show up, then we have to figure out how to make something happen on our own.”

As a result, we live from one emotional high to another, but it doesn’t really satisfy and we kind of know that it’s fake. So we end up cranky and cynical.

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We don’t know how to have an ordinary, every day life with God. We don’t know if it’s really possible. We are so busy seeking the big moments (and yet feeling cynical about them) that we miss the still, small voice of the Spirit.

“All of our religious efforts grow from hearts that long for redemption, for transcendence, and that most of all long to connect with God.

The mountaintop experiences don’t satisfy, but the presence of Jesus does, and he’s promised that he won’t forsake us” Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder.

I love this!!

Sometimes I just get so overwhelmed with the problems in our modern church. I’m frustrated by all the people who are blissfully ignorant of the problems and content within their Christian bubble. I’m angry at all the hurt that happens and gets covered up in the name of “Jesus.” But as I’ve read books, and written, and heard your responses lately, I’m also encouraged.

There are a lot of us cranky people out there! And we are seeking after Someone who will satisfy our desire for more. He probably won’t come in a whirlwind or a burning bush, but we are gonna find Him. We are going to learn to hear His still, small voice in the ordinary moments of our lives. Because He promised we would…because He wants to be found!

And we ARE the church. So, there is hope!!! 🙂

The God Who Wants to be Found – Pt. 2

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If you read yesterday’s post, then you know that I am treading on some shaky ground according to some conservative Christians. Asking some slightly heretical questions. 😉 That’s okay! Questions are good!

Let me clarify some things before I continue.

I don’t believe that sincere faith in just any religion guarantees access to heaven. I do believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father. I do believe in a literal hell. But I also agree with C.S. Lewis.

“We do know that no person can be save except through Christ. We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Throughout the Old Testament, we clearly see God having relationships with people who had never heard about Jesus and were not even Jews: Job, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek Priest of Salem, the Queen of Sheba, and the wise men for example. How did they seek and find the Living God? What’s to say that similar things are not happening today?

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God is not hiding up in heaven. He is not cold and distant. Both the Old and New Testament abound with verses telling us that God is near.

  • If we seek after God, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:12-14).
  • He is close enough to find while feeling in the dark (Acts 17:26-28).
  • The creation itself screams to us about God’s character and attributes (Romans 1:19-20).

What if God is the God Who Wants to be Found? What if He makes it very easy?

I am certain that God gives every one of us opportunities to seek Him. We all have a choice. Whether we live in the USA or in Outer Mongolia. It doesn’t matter. If we seek for the Living God, we will find Him!!  And He will show us enough to save us.

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For example:

In the late 1800s, a Liberian prince named Kaboo (later known as Samuel Morris) was captured and tortured by a rival clan. During one of the intense whippings, he heard a voice from heaven, felt his ropes fall to the ground, and saw a bright light. The light led him through the jungle to a town where he found a mission. Samuel Morris was introduced to Jesus through the story of the apostle Paul and he recognized the God who had set him free.

A video from New Tribes Bible Institute tells the story of a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea where missionaries were teaching chronologically through the Bible. They had gotten just past the Passover in Egypt when one of the old men in the tribe got very sick. As he lay dying, the man cried out to God’s Passover Lamb to save him. He’d never heard of Jesus, but there is no doubt in my mind that that man is in heaven!

There are thousands of amazing stories coming out of the Middle East recently from Muslims who have begun to seek after the true God and Jesus has appeared to them in dreams and visions.

I read once (and it’s driving me crazy because I cannot remember where) about some national missionaries in China who had a remote people group on their heart. They prayed for these people and attempted to reach them. When they finally arrived, Jesus had beat them to it! The people were ready for the gospel, because Jesus had already been there.

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I can’t explain any of this! But it resonates with what I know to be true about the Living God. I am absolutely confident that the God of the Universe LOVES us and WANTS us to know Him. He never forces Himself, but if we look for Him, we will find Him.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I am more concerned for us Church People in America than I am for those in distant tribes. They can look up to a starry sky and wonder about the Cosmos and the God who created it. We see a Universe and contemplate if it happened by accident. We get distracted by our technology, by our barrage of constant information via social media, podcasts, the news, etc. We become cynical in our overwhelming amount of Christianese knowledge.

Maybe it’s not God who is the problem. Maybe it’s us. Isn’t that an unsettling thought?

Every sunrise and sunset screams His glory. Pounding waves throb with His certainty and faithfulness. The immeasurable vastness of the Universe echoes with His power. Animals and insects, fish and birds sing of His creativity and sense of humor. We are surrounded by God’s character and divine qualities. But still we doubt…

“For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” Romans 1:20.

Jesus walked among us as the very image of God. Arguably the most influential man in all of history. He happily lived in calm obscurity for barely three decades. And yet, He managed to completely change the world. But we still question…

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

So where do we go from here? How do we find enough faith to seek when we just feel tired, and cranky, and cynical?

Apparently there is a part three to this blog series. 🙂 Coming soon!