The One Thing that Stops Grace

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I’m rereading this theological fantasy series right now. You’ll hear a bit more about it tomorrow in my email newsletter. (Not signed up yet? Click here.) The Archives of Anthropos were written by the late Christian author, psychiatrist, and pastor, John White. I first read them as I was a teenager, and then again to my husband after we were married. But reading them now a decade later, I’m struck fresh by the wisdom and truth that White weaves through his story.

In Book One, there is a boy who is supposed to be the Sword Bearer. He has an impressive sword and a mission to accomplish. But because he stubbornly refuses to drink the wine of free pardon, he cannot get his sword to leave the scabbard. He is powerless on his own and is currently pridefully refusing the power of the Changer. I’m so irritated with this character right now and so convicted at the same time.

I find it ironic that the only thing that stops God’s grace is our stubborn pride.

No sinner is too sinful for God’s grace. We can never be too far away from it. Yet He allows us to resist. He wants to give us the Kingdom! But He doesn’t push anything on us.

Often we think of pride as feeling superior, like we don’t need God or His grace. That we are fine on our own. But reverse pride is just as dangerous, maybe more. Reverse pride is deciding that we are too messed up, too bad, or too far away for God to reach. That somehow we are outside of God’s grace.

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The wine of free pardon is available to anyone in Anthropos. The initial sip is full of bitterness and fire, but those who choose to drink are filled with inexplicable joy and peace. They receive supernatural healing and strength. I get this.

Surrendering to God’s grace, admitting we need it and that we have nothing to offer in return…it’s humbling. And letting go of control can be terrifying. Control brings feelings of safety.

But, you guys…grace is amazing! It’s beyond our wildest imagination. Free pardon. Based on total Jesus and on nothing me. It’s crazy and insane and beautiful. And once you’ve tasted it, you can’t go back. Not just grace for salvation, but grace for life. Grace is not just a word or a concept, it’s a force.

I wish there was something I could do or say to convince you to jump into the abyss that is God’s Grace. To leave your pride and stubbornness and control on the top of the cliff and just jump, screaming, eyes shut, arms flung wide.

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It’s not worth clinging to those broken, plastic toys.

But God will not force you, and I can’t either. He will woo you, draw you, tantalize you, but ultimately He will let you decide. And if you choose to stubbornly resist, He will let you.

Too many of us have experienced grace for salvation and called it good. We don’t know what we are missing.

Receiving the full force of God’ grace doesn’t take any action on our part except for repentance and an open hand. Repentance means that we agree with God. We admit our pride and fear and desire for control. We agree that those things are holding us back, that they are wrong. Then, with head bowed and most likely teary eyes, we just open our hands. And we let God overwhelm us with His grace. This is not about us. It’s about Him.

I pray with all my heart that you will experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ. That you will choose to drink deeply of the wine of free pardon. And that you will never be the same.

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Boy Meets Girl and Other Romantical Nonsense.

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I have a confession to make: I’m totally in love with Netflix’s Anne with an E. Potentially bordering on obsessed. Fortunately for me I don’t have time to binge-watch anything so each episode is stolen in little chunks. Unfortunately I then stumble around life in a daze dreaming of Gilbert Blythe.

I realize they totally butcher the story line, but I’m not purist. Mostly because the characters they’ve created are so REAL that I would watch them do anything.

Anne was a peer of mine growing up so I’m kind of attached to her, not to mention Diana, and Gilbert. Spending my teens in an ultra-conservative, cultic sphere of Christianity like I did, I related more to Anne, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the girls of Little Women than I did to the other kids in the 90s. I spent years wishing I’d been born in the 1800s where I belonged.

I’ve been recording stories from my middle years for Season Two of my podcast. This last week I talked about the purity culture. The first of those episodes is coming out tonight (#23). It’s ironic that I’m thinking back to the old courtship days while watching Anne and Gilbert dance around their feelings for each other. (Romantic sigh)

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Photo Credit: Anne with an E Facebook Page

I think I miss my rosy view of life.

Becoming a woman while reading healthy doses of old-fashioned romance and not actually having interactions with real men gave me all kinds of romantical ideas. I truly believed in happy endings and the goodness of humanity.

The real world has stripped me of most of this nonsense, but I still wish it were true. And I think this is why, despite everything I’ve gone through, I just can’t be a cynic.

It’s like my heart knows things are broken and corrupted here on this planet, but it also has caught a glimpse of what should be, what could be, and I can’t let go. I still believe in a happy ending, just not necessarily between boy and girl and all that.

I love this quote by C.S. Lewis: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

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“The only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

I feel that. Do you? We were made for more.

We have got to stop trying to stuff our hole with things, and distract ourselves with entertainment (even great Netflix shows), and hide our ache with business. There is no shame in the aching hole we have in our hearts. It doesn’t mean we are broken (although we are), it means we are loved.

We were created by a Being who made us for more. And the best part is that we CAN find Him even here on this corrupted planet. But we will definitely find Him for all of eternity because He came to find us. 🙂 Now that’s a story that my romantical heart loves.

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The Gift of Brokenness

5798BD51-44AE-4CAA-834F-FFD2E9FCE4F6.pngWe stopped by the Creation Museum in Kentucky to take in the awesome light display and live nativity on our way down south to visit my brother’s family after Christmas. My father is a lifetime member which means that he has guest passes readily available. Which is why we have been there multiple times over the last few years while passing through on on our way south. It’s always a unique experience for me. The Creation Museum brings together an eclectic collection of Christians that kind of makes me cringe. I love the people watching but always come away slightly triggered. 

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It’s a fresh reminder that a powerful Christian bubble exists. One that you can enter, live in blissfully, and die without leaving. It’s a seemingly peaceful echo chamber of like-minded people. A place where you all agree and never have to question your beliefs, preferences, or interpretations of the world.

There are many, many people still blissfully living in their Christian bubble. Because when religion is working, you never stop to question it. 

This was the beginning of my ponderings.

Towards the end of our visit in the South, my sister-in-law (who is also a blogger and hopeful author) and I spent a delightful afternoon disusing the bubble over cafe miels at a local coffee shop. She explained that if you are a Southerner then you are generally a Christian, at least culturally. But too often it’s a pray this prayer and get just enough of Jesus to inoculate you from the real thing. Ouch.

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I’ve been exploring my old journals from the middle years in preparation for Season Two of Looking for the Real God. These were the years where I no longer accepted the teachings of my cultic group, but before I married my wonderfully opposite husband. They are a bit painful to read. I was in my early twenties and thought I had the whole world figured out.

As I’ve read, listening to my mind stretch and grow, seeing fresh how God broke me of my idyllic worldview, and watching Him humble my ever prideful heart, I’ve felt embarrassment and gratitude. I identify with the Christian bubble and cultural Christianity because I lived it.

But through pure mercy, God smashed my bubble and got me out. Brokenness ended up being the most precious gift He could have given. Because when the bubble broke, I was able to see that it and the god I was following were both fakes. It’s been a process as I’ve been reminded of in my old journals. The gift of brokenness has been something God has given me multiple time. But each time my bubble world shatters, I discover more of who the Real God is in comparison to my little, religious, god-in-a-box.

And this is why I’m going to say this crazy thing.

If you have been broken by religion and left confused and doubting, consider it a special gift. 

It may seem like a curse, but in reality it is a precious blessing given to you by a Real God who wants to reveal Himself to you. Because…

We will never doubt our false beliefs when they seem right.

We will never look for a Real God when our fake god is enough.

We will not question our religious Christianity when it is working for us.

But when it all comes falling down, smashes into one thousand pieces at our feet, and leaves us broken and confused, then we will seek for something more.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it forever. As humans we are naturally religious. It’s part of our sinful natures. We want a checklist to follow so that we can appease god and get the good results.

But the Real Jesus is not religious. He doesn’t need appeasing because He already appeased Himself. His greatest desire is for us to know Him. We were created with the capacity to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. And that’s a little wild and scary.

There is no formula or checklist. There is no guaranteed outcome. But there is a very real Living Being who has done everything necessary to restore our relationship with Himself. God gave us the Bible as a revelation of Who He is and how He has continually pursued humanity since the beginning of time. Jesus provides His Spirit as a helper and comforter until we see Him face to face. We can know God.

When I look at the state of evangelical Christianity, or the church, or the inoculation of cultural Christianity, I feel overwhelmed with discouragement. But just last week I was talking to Jesus about this, and He reminded me that this is what He does. This is how the broken world works.

People have always run away, and misrepresented God, and chosen religion over Him. And the Real and Living God has always pursued humanity with love, patience, and grace. This is the story of our world.

And in that truth I find hope.

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The Awkward Middle Way

Christy Lynne Wood (1)

When my friend Rachel invited me over to her family’s fall harvest party I had no idea I’d be running into people from my past. Or that there would be an awkward stare down over the bonfire.

Although Rachel and I had both grown up under the influence of the same cultic organization, her family had been on the fringe and missed a lot of the craziness I experienced. Still, we had a bunch of mutual friends. Something I unfortunately forgot. I hadn’t seen these people in at least five years and let’s just say a lot had changed. For me that is; they looked exactly the same from their blue jean jumpers and tennis shoes, to the rolled curl of bangs across their foreheads. It was kind of surreal.

Maybe no one would recognize me. Maybe they would just think I was a worldly soul in need of conversion.

Rachel couldn’t let that happen. I was warming myself by the bonfire when I realized that I knew the woman directly across from me. She didn’t notice me until my dear friend announced, “You remember Christy Mills don’t you?”

Her icy glare swept from from the tips of my jeaned legs to the top of my short hair. I’ve never felt so judged and condemned in my life, but I managed a sheepish smile, “Hello, Mrs. So-n-so. How are you?”

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Sometimes I still feel like I am getting glared at – only this time it’s from two sides of the bonfire. Maybe you do too. We don’t fit in with traditional conservative Christians but we don’t fit with the more progressive groups either. Welcome to the awkward middle way.

I imagine David Bennett, author of A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus feels this way too. Despite his book being absolutely amazing, (seriously, go on Amazon and buy it) David has gotten flack from both sides. The conservatives are upset because he calls himself a gay Christian and identifies as LGBTQ and the progressives are upset because he affirms an Orthodox Christian view of marriage and sexuality and is choosing to be celibate. He can’t win. And yet, there are many people who have joined David in the middle way and are celebrating his journey with him.

Guys, we are great at choosing sides, but what if truth is actually found in tension?

My church talks a lot about tension theology. That’s the idea that we need to hold onto two seemingly opposing truths to have an accurate understanding of reality. We have to embrace the paradox. I’ll never forget the story our pastor told us about trying to put up a trampoline.

Someone gave his family a used trampoline and he decided to surprise the kids by setting it up. Because it was used, it didn’t come with any instructions. However, my pastor managed to get the frame together and started connecting the springs. But the more springs he connected, the harder it got. Although one side was hooked up, the other side wasn’t even close to connecting. “This trampoline is too small,” he thought to himself. No matter how hard he pulled, my pastor couldn’t get the second side of springs to reach.

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Eventually, he took all the springs off and just connected one. Then he walked around to the opposite side, pulled and connected one. After hooking on a spring in each of the four directions, my pastor was able to get all of the springs to stretch and reach. This is the same with tension theology.

Is God holy and just or loving and merciful? He’s both. Predestination or free will? It’s both. Is God three or one? He’s both. See how this goes? It doesn’t always makes sense to our finite minds, but that’s just it. We are the creation not the Creator. It’s okay if we don’t understand it all. In fact, if we can explain everything about God, then our god probably isn’t the Real One. There is much truth that needs to be held in tension.

I heard the phrase Via Media from my good friend, Alexis. Yes, the same friend who talks theology with me over bagels and coffee. Via Media, or the Middle Way was first used religiously by Anglicans to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.

I guess people have always been good at extremes.

I love the Via Media because it’s where I seem to fit best these days. I’m just muddling around somewhere in-between the extremes of the right and left: religiously, politically, socially, etc. I refuse to compromise my orthodox view of the Bible and Christianity. But I also refuse to go along with the religious traditions of cultural evangelicalism. I want to passionately love the people God has created, and I want to hold to the actual truth of His Word at the same time. It’s an awkward place, and kind of messy, and I definitely might get stuff wrong, but I’m okay with that. It’s not that I’m compromising, I’m just choosing to hold truths in tension.

I want to dialogue with people who are different than me. I want to learn from people I disagree with. I want to hold my perspective with an open hand. While at the same time continuing to believe in a very big, very real, incredibly amazing God who knows it all. Grace and truth, that is the goal in my pursuit of the awkward middle way. I want to hold tightly to truth in one hand and grace in the other. I want to be like Jesus.

It’s been amazing to find more middle way muddlers lately. Sometimes this journey can be lonely. But together we can be a tribe, a family. Figuring this out together in humility. Giving plenty of grace. Understanding that it’s not really us vs. them and rarely is anything actually black and white. We might get glares from both sides of the bonfire, but that’s okay because Jesus got a lot of glares too.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #15 The Awkward Middle Way.

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The Theology of Me

The Theology of Me (1)

Once a month or so my friend, Alexis, and I meet for breakfast. I don’t have many friends who are up for deep theological conversations at 8am, so Alexis is pretty special. We drink coffee, eat bagels, and ponder God. She’s a decade or so younger than me and her perspective on life is refreshing. Alexis was the one who inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast episode when she mentioned a double-sided theology of God.

We are both taking night classes at our church. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class (which I’ve been consistently talking about on my Facebook page), and Alexis is taking a Theology class. “In order to have an accurate view of God,” Alexis began, “we must believe in His transcendence and immanence.”

Those are big words and I had to look them up.

Transcendence means that God is above us in every way. He is hidden and we can never know Him fully here on earth. But immanence means that God is also with us. He has revealed a portion of Himself to us and He is able to be known.

One of these beliefs about God without the other creates a god that is out of balance. This theology quickly becomes more about me than anything else.

My brain started to spin. How else we have created a Theology of Me within our versions of Christianity?

Maybe it’s because we can’t see God and don’t have daily physical interactions with Him. Or maybe it’s because we are naturally His enemies. But for whatever reason, we humans are constantly misrepresenting the very Real and Living God of the Universe. And we are pathetically good at extremes

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Jumping to a side comes naturally with a black and white or us vs. them mentality. But I think truth is found in tension, in the Awkward Middle Way (that I’ll be talking more about next time), as we hold onto two seemingly opposing truths.

Here is what I see happening in modern Western Christianity.

There are two extreme versions and neither is accurate. One group focuses on God’s love and goodness (as defined by their own opinions). Their god is nice but he is also kind of wimpy. He cares more about people’s happiness and other positive emotions than he does about what they do or don’t do.

The Bible becomes irrelevant as people pick and choose the parts that seem good to them. Somehow, they seem to believe that they are more advanced than the original authors of Scripture or even God himself. Salvation is vague if even necessary at all.

This kind of theology might seem good because it is kind and loving and hopeful, but people are the real gods here and it’s actually a Theology of Me.

The other side holds tightly to truth (as defined by their opinions). They focus on God’s power and rules. Their god is holy and just, but he’s also kind of a manipulative narcissist. He demands correct behavior and good people who are afraid of him.

The Bible becomes a rule book filled with dos and don’ts. Rather than seeing the Bible as the story of God and people, they see it as a recipe box filled with formulas to get desired results. Salvation is often fear based and focuses on behavior.

This version of unbalanced theology might seem like it’s about God, but if you look closely, it’s actually not. I perform. I follow the rules. I get blessings and success because I am a good person. Under the guise of “righteousness,” it’s still a Theology of Me.

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The Living God is either real or He’s not.

And if He is real, then we must accept that He is unlike us, above us, and incomprehensible to us. However, He has also chosen to be with us, and He allows Himself to be known and experienced by us.

When God is God instead of us, we get to live in this beautiful place of tension and mystery. It’s not all going to make sense because He is so much more than we are. But this amazing Living Being wants an actual relationship with us. We have the capacity to know Him. Our relationship with the Real God is not going to be one where we get to call the shots. But it’s one where our questions and doubts are welcome.

In this place of tension, we find a God who is just and holy, but filled with grace and love. He is all-powerful and yet allows us to choose to reject Him. The Bible becomes His revelation to us. I love this next quote.

“The Bible amounts to baby talk, because God is so much more than He can communicate, but the Bible remains true knowledge because God is not different or other than what we see there” Dr. Mike Wittmer.

Salvation is a needed gift from God to us because we could never get back to Him by ourselves, but the only behavior it is based on is the sacrificial behavior of Jesus Christ.

Making ourselves the gods comes naturally as we create gods in our image. But if the Living God is real, and I believe He is, then it’s not our job to create Him, but instead to find Him.

Whichever side of the Theology of Me you find yourself on, I hope that you will stop to consider the possibility of a tension filled Living God who is both far above us and near enough to be known.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #14 The Theology of Me.

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Not-So-Silent Women

Not-So-Silent Women

I don’t want to be a pastor or lead a church. But I would like the freedom to share my story and the message that God has laid on my heart with both men and women.

I’m not looking for power or authority; I just want a voice.

I’m not a radical feminist. But I’d like to publish a book that doesn’t have flowers on the cover.

This shouldn’t be too much to ask. 

Growing up in my conservative, patriarchal community, none of those ideas ever entered my mind. Women were created to be help-meets which meant they stayed home, cooked, cleaned, and produced copious amounts of children. Male leadership used verses like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15 to keep us females in our place.

Strangely, even after I got out of my cultic-subgroup of Christianity, mainstream Christians still didn’t seem to understand how to interpret these passages of Scripture. People either declared them outdated and worth ignoring, or they continued to use the passages to limit women within the church.

Honestly, none of it really mattered to me until more recently. As my online following has grown and as God has zeroed in on the passions of my heart, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated. More than anything, I want to honor the Real God of the Real Bible. But if you’ve read any of my posts, you will know that I don’t believe all religious tradition is actually Real.

About eighteen months ago, I took a little journey through the Old Testament and one of the surprising things I discovered was that God didn’t seem to have a problem with Deborah being a prophetess. Taking that into account along with the way God specifically includes women in the genealogy of Jesus, makes sure to tell stories of women interacting with Jesus, and lets women be the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection…well, I started to wonder how much of this limiting of women in the church was just religious tradition and not truth.

A friend of mine passed the video below on to me this summer. It’s produced by a group that is affiliated with Asbury Theological Seminary. As I watched Dr. Gary Hoag explain 1 Timothy 2:9-15, my mind was blown. Of course there was background knowledge that we don’t understand. 1 Timothy is a letter written by a real person (the apostle Paul) to a real person (Timothy) at a real place (Ephesus).

My next step, thanks to a wonderful mentor, was to research the Hebrew words ezer kenegdo. These are the words that the LORD uses to describe Eve before He makes her. They get translated as suitable helper or help-meet, which is honestly nowhere near what the Hebrew means. I’m linking my favorite article here, but do yourself a favor and look these words up. It’s well worth it!

This brings me to yesterday. This fall my church decided to offer free Bible Institute classes on Sunday nights. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class taught by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary. The point of the class on Sunday night was to use structure to understand meaning, that is how to take apart verses clause by clause. But I think our professor may have heard about the John MacArthur and Beth Moore mess that happened the day before, because he decided to demonstrate using 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. (Side note, the most accurate translation to practice this with is the NASB because it keeps the clauses in the same structure as the Greek.)

After organizing the independent (clauses that could be a sentence by themselves) and dependent clauses (ones that can’t), the verses looked like this.

The women are to keep silent in the churches;
          for they are not permitted to speak,
          but are to subject themselves,
               just as the Law also says.
     If they desire to learn anything
let them ask their own husbands at home;
          for it is improper
          for a woman to speak in church.

Our professor asked what we noticed. We responded that it looked like the women were asking questions in the middle of the service. He reminded us that culturally Greek (and Jewish) women were not educated, so they would have been missing some of the information readily available to men.

Next our professor had us back up and look at the whole of Chapter 14. We quickly noticed that the entire chapter was about having an orderly worship service. Other types of people were also told to “keep silent.” If there is no interpreter, then the person who speaks in tongue must keep silent (vs 28). Prophets needed to take turns and when someone else had a revelation, the first one must keep silent (vs 30).

The professor asked if these people had to stay silent forever. The obvious answer was no. He reminded us that the Corinthian church was a mess and most of Paul’s letter was addressing all of their many issues. And this particular chapter was about having a more orderly service. That’s it.

I left class feeling so excited and validated as a Christian women. 

I didn’t even know about the things John MacArthur said about Beth Moore yet. But the next morning I posted to my writer Facebook page and the post exploded.

The best quote from my Bible Study Methods class last night.

“People who think they can understand the text using just the English translation are…let me think of an inoffensive word…simple.”

Then the professor proceeded to tear apart 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 where it says women should be silent in the church. He TORE IT UP! And laid it out again just by looking at the structure of the clauses. And in the process he validated all Christian women and boldly handed me my voice.

This incredibly smart professor is my new hero. 😁

Everyone wanted to know what my professor had said. Hence this blog post.

As in so many other areas, I’m personally looking for truth in tension. I am okay holding onto two seemingly opposite truths. I still believe in male headship and female submission, two concepts which are totally Biblical. But they don’t look the same as they used to in my mind. Empowered Christian women can still choose to come under male leadership, similarly to the way a basketball team follows their captain. But…

Submission is not the same as oppression.

And leadership does not mean lordship.

John MacArthur was quoted during the conference this past weekend as declaring “When you literally overturn the teaching of Scripture to empower people who want power, you have given up biblical authority,”

I’m just not sure those “teachings” are actually biblical which means that the authority wouldn’t be biblical either.

People who are reading this, we have never had easier access to study tools and information. Let’s question, and learn, and dig into Scripture for ourselves. Don’t just accept religious tradition at face value, but don’t mindless throw things out because you don’t like them. Let’s find out what the Bible actually says and let’s be willing to live in the Awkward Middle Way, in the tension of truth. I’m linking a few of my favorite study tools below. Happy digging!

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Favorite Study Links:

Bible.org and within that NetBible.org

Blue Letter Bible

I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

Christy Lynne Wood

My grandpa loved burnt cookies. That last pan that got forgotten in the oven, the extra crispy ones with the hard brown edges that no one else wanted to eat, those were his favorites. When my grandparents came to visit, he always had the same question for my mom. “Got any burnt cookies?”

At first I thought he was joking or just trying to make my mom feel better if she’d burnt any. But as I grew up, I realized that my grandpa was actually serious. One of thirteen siblings, his mom was just a little busy and burnt cookies were often the result. Strangely, Grandpa not only got used to burnt cookies, he actually preferred them. I recently learned that various relatives would burn a pan for him on purpose. Good old Grandpa!

It makes me think of Jesus. As people, especially in our virtual world of social media, we value having it together. It’s important that we are looking good, behaving well, or at least pretending. But while He was on earth, Jesus seemed to prefer the broken ones, choosing to make rejected people His closest friends. He was always pursuing the outcasts and the obvious sinners. I think He was a little bit like my grandpa.

I love imagining Jesus coming in with outstretched hands and a smile, “I’m just here for the broken ones.”

I’m just here for the broken ones.

We’re all broken. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. The tax collectors and prostitutes that Jesus befriended weren’t any worse sinners than the Pharisees. Sin isn’t just outward behaviors.

We desperately need a bigger understanding of a lot of things. I think religious Christians often see sin as merely behaviors they need to avoid. Somehow the goal has become outward goodness and our real issues get shoved under the rug and into the closet. Guilt and shame keep them there and as a result many church people never get to fully comprehend grace.

Religion_ I’m too much of a mess. Gotta get it together before I come to God.

Sin isn’t just behavior. It’s the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It’s in our thoughts, and attitudes, and the motives of our hearts. We cannot get rid of it by ourselves. But we don’t have to!

God doesn’t want good people.

How’s that for a crazy thought? God does not value human effort at goodness. It is utterly impossible for us ever to be good enough on our own. And pride stops grace.

But this is why the gospel is good news. Jesus loves broken people, messed up ones, and total failures. And those are the kinds of people who love Him back. Because they know they need Him, because they know they can’t do it on their own. Because they come humbly to the cross and accept His free gift of forgiveness.

When we are broken, then we are able to be healed. When we are lost, then we are able to be found. When we are a total sinner, then we are able to experience forgiveness. In humility we find abundant grace, and mercy, and love.

Let’s stop trying to cover up our messes. Let’s just be burnt cookies!

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Maybe We Just Weren’t That Special

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“God has big plans for you,” they said.

“You are special; you’ve been chosen,” they declared.

“You are the generation who is going to change the world.”

Our young hearts, full of dreams and hopes, burned with the flame of inspiration. We could do anything through Christ. We were going to change the world!

Twenty or so years later, we are half way through our lives. The world hasn’t been changed. If anything it’s more screwed up than it ever was. Many of us never did anything special and still feel a lingering guilt for conforming to the world. Some of us tried and failed. Maybe it was a quiet failure or possibly a more glorious burning out, but the pain and confusion are still there. Guilt, shame, and disillusionment, we are familiar with these demons. Doubt and questions have long replaced our naive enthusiasm.

If you resonate with any of what I just said, then this blog post is for you. Disillusionment sucks. It really hurts and we can easily start second-guessing so many other things we once believed.

But can I throw out an idea? Maybe we didn’t fail our calling or purpose. Maybe we just weren’t that special to begin with. Maybe we were never supposed to change the world.

 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV).

Recognize this verse? Maybe it’s one of the verses they used to try and motivate you to be awesome and do big things. I’ll be honest, I’ve used it myself as a well-meaning youth leader trying to encourage the next generation. It’s an exciting verse full of possibility. But the problem is that when we use it alone, ripped from it’s context, Jeremiah 29:11 loses it’s richness and depth.

It’s not really a promise about doing amazing things and changing the world.

The LORD is talking to Jeremiah about His people Israel that He sent into exile because they refused to obey Him. Torn from their homes and communities and away from their families, they had been taken into captivity in a strange land. The LORD tells them in verses four through ten that they are going to be in this place of captivity for seventy years. Not good news. But He wants them to accept it, settle down, marry and have children, and seek the peace of the places where they have been exiled. God assures them that even in this place of captivity, He has plans for them and that He will give them a future and a hope. This brokenness is not the end.

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It actually gets even better. In verses twelve through fourteen, the LORD tells His people that when they seek Him in this broken place, they will find Him. God assures His people that He wants to be found.

In it’s actual context, Jeremiah 29:11 is not exactly the, dream big and go do awesome stuff because God has a great future for you pep talk, is it? It’s more of a life is broken and it’s not gonna go the way you want, but make the best of it and seek Me because I want you to find Me encouragement.

Guess what, friends? We can’t change the world. And we aren’t supposed to.

“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

Live quietly; mind your own business. It seems like this passage is encouraging obscurity and simple faithfulness rather than awesomeness.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10.

Paul doesn’t say “big works” or “famous works” or “successful works”. He just says good ones. And we know that most good works are simple, small, and unnoticed.

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If you ever sat in a youth group meeting, or a conference, or at a chapel service at camp and listened to a well-meaning leader tell you that you were special, the chosen ones, or the generation that would change the world…

If you ever went to Bible college full of dreams and “the plans that God had for you” only to be completely disillusioned…

If you have served in Christian ministry, fought with blood, sweat, and tears, and gave it your all, only to be burned out, or maybe even burned by the people you were trying to reach…

Please hear me.

You have not failed. You are not a failure, or a washout, or a reject. This is not a one chance thing. God is not done with you. Those are all lies that you need to reject!

What if you were just on the wrong train? We try so hard to make a difference as though  in our own efforts we can change people. But guess what? No program, or church, or sermon, or camp, or mission agency, or youth pastor, or any other kind of human effort can change anyone.

Human religion might be able to control behavior for a while, but the power to transform hearts belongs to only One – the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.

So if we aren’t capable of changing the world (and aren’t even supposed to be), what should we be doing?

Getting to know Jesus.

“He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8.

There is only one person that we can actually change. Ourselves. And even that actual change has to come from Jesus! But we can chose to seek Him by developing habits that bring Him into the front of our mind and lives. We can search the Scriptures to find Who He truly is. We can learn to listen to the quiet whisper of His Spirit.

We can live faithful, simple lives that dig deep into the people around us. We can serve and love and give. We can use the gifts that God has given us without demanding results. Our lives might not be magnificent, world changing, or even Instagram worthy. But these are the real kinds of plans that God has for us in the middle of our broken world. These are the good works that He has prepared for us before hand. This is the humble way of Jesus. Let’s follow in the obscure steps of our Savior.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” Philippians 2:5-7.

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Irony and Apostasy: Finding a Solid Faith

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There is something amazingly ironic about a Christian songwriter and an Evangelical poster-boy announcing they are leaving the faith, and then the lead singer of a Christian rock band nailing the world with the truth. John Cooper, lead singer of the band, Skillet, went viral over the past few days with his bold and honest Facebook post.

Skillet. There was a time when I was pretty sure a Christian rock band like this actually worshiped the devil. Haha! Now I find myself shaking my head and smiling, because this is exactly how the Real Jesus works.

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“What in God’s name is happening in Christianity?” John Cooper asked. ” More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith.”

John Cooper has tattoos, sings in a rock band, and wears eyeliner! That’s enough to give many conservative Christians a stroke. But he also stepped up passionately to defend the faith and the God that he loves. I can’t even begin to describe my glee. (Make sure you read his full statement that I linked above if you haven’t already.) This is the Real God…He uses people that don’t fall into the “good Christian” category all the time.

People rarely get this animated about a religion or a belief system. But they do feel this passionately about Someone they know personally. And I think that’s the difference.

People can fall away from a set of rules or beliefs, but if you have encountered the Living Person of Jesus Christ, it’s a different story. It’s really hard to walk away from Jesus; I know that from experience.

SO, WHAT DO WE DO?

I believe that a vibrant Christian faith needs a mix of two things. It needs a balanced mix of truth and experience. If either one of those gets out of wack, we run into problems. Someone once told me that I’m a practical mystic and I kind of like that.

On one side people can get so focused on knowledge, apologetics, and information that their faith is purely intellectual. I’ve heard it said that people who are argued into the faith can just as easily be argued out of it. Knowledge is good; Christian education is necessary. But if that’s all we have, then we are missing something vitally important. Someone.

But on the other side, there are people who are caught up in emotional experience without any knowledge of the Bible, theology, or the historical Christian faith. If this is the case, then our spirituality is based on feelings without any solid ground to stand on. One good wind storm and our faith is shattered.

The answer is found in combination. If you make an effort to learn how to read the Bible in a responsible way, how to understand and apply Scripture, and become familiar with the core tenets of the faith… But you also recognize that God is a Spiritual Being who wants to be active in our lives and you are open to that reality… Boom!

Welcome to the amazing, ridiculous, often backwards Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It’s pretty great in here. 

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There’s a bit of panic among some Christians right now as they watch all these prominent leaders publicly walking away from the faith. But I’m not worried. It’s causing us to have some really great conversations. It’s making us think. It’s giving us an opportunity to reevaluate our Christian faith and what it means to us. Sounds like something the Spirit might be actually be behind…

And the people who have walked away? Their story isn’t over yet. They probably needed to leave their religious Christianity and their impostor Jesus, so that they can eventually find the Real One. God continually pursues people, and if we stop resisting Him and start seeking, we will find Him.

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:12-13.

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Why I am Still a Christian

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Somewhere in the course of a six hour excursion to Urgent Care on Saturday, in the middle of our less-than-fantastic camping trip, I came across an article on Facebook. It talked about how Joshua Harris, author of the infamous I Kissed Dating Good-bye, announced he was also saying good-bye to his Christian faith. There has been a lot of faith deconstruction going on lately. And if you’ve read other blog posts of mine, you will know that I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. But this one has rocked me.

And the more I’ve looked at articles, checked out blog posts, and read Josh Harris’s own words over on his Instagram, the more broken I feel. I’m going to try to make this blog post cohesive, but there is a lot on my heart, so I hope you will bear with me.

Josh Harris grew up in a very similar environment to me. In many ways we were peers although we never met. We experienced the same rules and formulas, an abundance of fear-based beliefs, and felt an unfortunate amount of pride because “we were special.” He has mentioned all of this over the last few years as he renounced the book he wrote and the beliefs he once held.

Deconstruction is healthy. There is a lot of religious Christianity filled with rules and formulas and twisted truth that many of us need to ditch. But I wish there was a safe, grace-filled place for people to deconstruct with hope. (If they want to.)

It often feels like when people are going through deconstruction the only place to safely land is in liberal Progressive Christianity or agnostic/atheistic worldviews. People who hold these views seem to be much better at encouraging and championing deconstruction than most traditional Christians. Traditional Christians tend to be afraid of questions and lost faith. Too often they are quick to condemn, label, or hand out useless Christianese answers.

Why can’t we just be kind to one another? Encourage questions? Be okay with doubt? Give grace? Try to understand where people are coming from? Let them have the time they need to heal?

I am devastated by the horrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to and about Josh Harris via blog posts and comments. These were public, so I can’t even imagine what he has received privately. Seriously people, being told hundreds of times that “you were never really a believer” by self-righteous, religious Christians will not encourage anyone to rethink Jesus. It makes me so angry I just want to punch something through my tears.

If God is real (and I absolutely believe He is), then He is not diminished by our doubts. He is not angered by our questions. If anything, as our Creator, He is the one who understands us the most. He is big enough and loving enough to handle them all.

If you are someone who is questioning, doubting, or walking away, I don’t want you to feel condemnation from me. But I also don’t want you to think that the only option is to reject everything you’ve ever believed. (However, if you need to leave it all for a while, I get that too.) There is a tricky, messy, sometimes confusing, middle way.

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People have asked me why I am still a Christian after coming out of my cultic sub-culture of Christianity. It’s a good question, and one I have been rethinking yet again the last couple of days.

Honestly, the decade I spent in my fundamental, legalistic version of Christianity isn’t the only time I have been hurt by Christians. I have a very clear and more recent memory of falling off of my bed, sobbing, wanting to die, and wondering if anything I believed was even real. I know what it is to be wounded by religion. But here I am championing our search for the Real God while holding on to historical Christian beliefs. Why?

I have a lot of reasons 🙂 but here are my top three.

  1. Two-thousand years of Christian history. I’ve loved listening to all of the smart people talk on Alisa Childer’s podcast the last few months. From scientists, to philosophers, to New Testament scholars, these people have serious intellectual reasons to believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the historical creeds of our faith. It’s ridiculously encouraging.
  2. Jesus. Both as a historical figure, and the man I believe was also God, Jesus is crazy amazing. If the Real God could love us enough to come as a person we could relate to, both to save us and to show us a glimpse of His heart, well, that’s a God I want to know. In the middle of man-made, religious Christianity, Jesus gives me hope. The more I understand about Him culturally and historically, the more I am blown away. He is nothing like we expect God to be and I love that about Him!
  3. Finally, I’ve met a Real and Living Presence. Probably more than anything else, this is why I’m still a Christian. For me to walk away from the faith, I’d have to walk away from a Being that I know and love. And I just can’t do that.

So, while I’m willing to question the traditions, the formulas, the silly Christianese phrases, and the many terrible ways we use the Bible, I choose to do it through the lens of a very Real God. A God that I definitely don’t always understand, but Who I believe is good, and loving, and on the side of the people He created.

Speaking of this, I’m launching my new podcast in just four weeks! It’s been a long and slightly terrifying process. But it’s nearly together, and I’m excited to share it with you and whoever else finds it and wants to join me in looking for the Real God.

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I’ll warn you, if you are someone who wants to deconstruct without God or without picking through the broken pieces of religious Christianity, then this podcast probably isn’t for you. But if you find a longing in your heart for more, if you have hope that God is real, then please come along for the ride!

And, Josh Harris, if for some reason you find this post and read this far, I want you to know that I get it. You have a lot of religious crap to unpack and sometimes that’s easier to do by just dropping everything. Sometimes the God we think is real needs to die, so that the REAL God can be. It’s okay to wonder, and question, and doubt. If God exists, He is big enough and loving enough to handle it all. I’m sorry for the terrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to you. I love that you have hope as you begin this new journey, and I hope that you eventually find yourself at a place where you can begin to search for God again.

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