Yeah, That’s Not Okay

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I listened to the podcast episode in frustration yet not in disbelief because I’ve experienced the bitter pain of church hurt myself. An author I’ve read and resonated with–even though sometimes we’ve disagreed–shared how her family was asked to leave the church they had finally settled in because of her writings.

Is this author on the progressive side of things? Yup. Does she have a fair share of questions and doubts? Absolutely. Had she been deeply wounded by religious Christians before this latest experience? Oh, yes. These are all the more reasons she had hoped to find a place of safety and grace as she rebuilt her fractured faith.

Unfortunately instead of grace, love, and understanding, she found condemnation, judgement, and rejection. Um, guys, there’s a serious problem with this!

If broken people can’t come to Jesus’ brothers and sisters for healing then where are they supposed to go?

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There is a deep issue within the church these days. (Many actually, but we will stick with just one for this post.) People have lost the Awkward Middle Way of grace AND truth and instead we have factions, wars, and sides.

Truth people might hold to the authority of Scripture–although often lacking context and appropriate hermmeneutics–but too often they also see in strict blacks and whites. They love right and wrong and push a list of correct behaviors without seeing the value of precious broken hearts.

Grace people love and accept lavishly–until you disagree with them–but often they are quick to interpret Scripture and historical Christianity through their own personal lenses of right and wrong. How they feel about something is what matters regardless of the way Christianity and the Bible has viewed that issue for the past two thousand years.

My biggest problem with these two sides is that neither of them is an accurate picture of Jesus Christ.

Jesus calls Himself The Truth in John chapter fourteen. He constantly spoke truth about God, about Himself, and about humanity. He didn’t sugarcoat things, and at times the truth He preached was offensive. But simultaneously Jesus was also filled with scandalous grace. He horrified the religious leaders by welcoming the outcasts–sinful and broken people they rejected as less–with open arms. Jesus walked the Awkward Middle Way perfectly.

And it is His example that I am striving to follow.

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What does this practically look like?

  • It looks like welcoming the questioning and doubting, listening closely to their heart, hearing their story, and empathizing with their experiences before offering ANY answers.
  • It looks like totally rejecting pat Christianese phrases or spiritual band-aids.
  • It looks like refusing to share a Scripture or pray a prayer until after we’ve made someone feel safe, heard, and loved.
  • It looks like being attentive to the Holy Spirit as we listen so that we will know when to share truth and how to say it gently.

Being people of grace and truth doesn’t mean that we don’t have a solid rock of truth that we stand on, but it also means we know when to keep our mouths shut and just listen. Shockingly, the Holy Spirit is even more eager to draw people to Himself than we are. 🙂 He doesn’t always need us to share everything we know. And often He uses the strangest little things to do His greatest work.

Friends, we live in a polarized, divided world and unfortunately people who call themselves Christians are in the dead middle of the problem. This. Is. Not. Okay.

WHAT IF WE CHANGED?

What if we Jesus Followers hold our beliefs, but hold them loosely enough that can can still love and accept people who disagree with us?

What if we became people who just ooze grace while still clinging to truth?

What if we made an intentional effort to find and listen to someone who disagrees with us each week? It could be a podcast, or book, or actual conversation. What if we did our best to see from their perspective even if we can’t find any common ground?

What if we began to practice being humble and gracious?

What if we recognized that leading people into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is WAY more important than forcing them into our side of political or societal issues?

Jesus is the only One who can save people. And like I asked before, if broken people can’t come to Jesus’ brothers and sisters for healing then where are they supposed to go?

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A Dry and Thirsty Land

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

I was reminded of one of my first blog posts this morning as I once again prayed for rain. It has been incredibly dry here in Michigan for the past few weeks. The grass is yellow with the exception of some weeds and I have to water my flowers every other day. After growing up in the country surrounded by farm fields, I’m still stressed out by the spiky corn plants we drive past; their curled and pointy leaves showing their own desperation. My husband laughs at me, but it’s something that I can’t seem to let go.

I spent the morning watching the radar and weather forecast. It looked like the rain was going to miss us after all. “God,” I prayed feeling the weight in my heart, “send us rain.”

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

I knew firsthand what it meant to be in a parched land and desire water. But what did it mean to long for God like that? I walked through the dry, dusty field at camp and I thought about being as desperate for God as I currently was for rain. Then I did it. I stretched out my hands. There is humility in stretching out to God — even a little bit of fear — because we are admitting that we can’t reach by ourselves. We are showing a need.

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Does your heart feel desperate? Mine does. Months of stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, political drama, social unrest, disagreement, anger, frustration, grief…my heart is kind of a wreck.

Do you know what I long for? Jesus Christ to come and physically reign as King. I want to see what true justice and mercy looks like. I want to watch a King with ultimate authority rule without loving money and power more than truth. And I am excited to know that the longings of my heart will one day be fulfilled.

But I also know that the King of my heart can also provide the peace and security I long for right now in the middle of this messy world. The Holy Spirit is with me (and you) right now. He is here and so I stretch out my hands.

When I stretched out my hands to Him, felt the strain in my fingers and the pull in my elbow, He was right there.

I’m desperate for God. I can’t live without Him. I need Him in the same way that plants need the rain. He knows that, but I need to remind myself. So, I stretch. 

Sometimes when I’m feeling brave at church I’ll lift my hand up just a little bit higher until I can feel it. Sometimes it’s in the car when I’m listening to the radio. There is just something freeing and beautiful about admitting how much we need God.

I noticed that my house felt darker this afternoon, so I picked up my phone to check the radar again. A tiny storm was starting to form to the southwest. “Jesus, send rain,” I breathed. I took my coffee out to the porch to watch. The wind began to pick up and I could hear distant rumbles of thunder. It came. A gentle mist at first and then, while the tree stops danced and swayed, a downpour. I ran for cover laughing. I watched on the radar and out my windows for the next hour and more while the storm grew and grew. It’s still gently raining as I finish this post.

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The same God who graciously answered my desperate prayers for rain will answer our heart-cry for Him. “My soul thirsts for You like a parched land.” As we stretch for Him, He is there to be found.

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

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

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Here We Go Again

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Another well-known Christian influencer, raised in church and the son of a pastor, has come forward to say that he no longer believes in God. John Steingard, lead vocalist of the band Hawk Nelson shared via Instagram how his doubts and questions have brought him to this place. Here we go again.

If you’ve been around this blog or listened to my podcast, then you will know that I have no judgement for people who walk away from Christianity. Doubt, and questions, and lost faith are legitimate experiences and can be incredibly valuable.

No, I have no problem with people who walk away, but I have a huge problem with a religion that claims the name of Christ and yet never introduces them to the Real Jesus in the first place.

My heart is breaking, my eyes are full of tears, and I’m so angry I’m struggling to get words out. This. Is. Not. Okay.

I’d encourage you to read John’s lengthy explanation. The thoughts he expresses are real and very familiar.

  • He talks about a Christian culture that was shared without explanation or understanding.
  • John describes behavior based expectations that felt manipulative.
  • He uses Christianese phrases like “accepting Jesus into your heart” and “praying for signs and wonders.”
  • There was a definite initial suppression of any doubts.
  • And finally John shares his questions that just don’t seem to have acceptable answers.

John is describing his experience with a broken religion, an experience that many of us have shared. Religion is not enough. A set of beliefs, or a checklist of behaviors, or even a happy, little bubble-world of likemindedness is NOT enough.

There is only one thing.

“”Christy, why are you still a Christian?” My friend, who also happened to be an atheist, looked at me intently from across the room.

It was a valid question, and one I had been pondering myself lately. Over ten years had passed since that midnight lecture on the couch, ten years and countless life changes. I was a youth pastor’s wife and mother of two. I wore jeans every day, had a Bachelor’s degree from a secular college, and every song on my iTunes playlist included drums. People in my current life knew that I had been homeschooled, but even my husband was oblivious to the extent of crazy I’d experienced in our cultic-subgroup of Christianity. That was changing…

…the door to my past was beginning to crack open. I learned that a man we previously respected and followed was being accused of sexual harassment, with multiple girls, over decades. I discovered a website dedicated to exposing truth about the cultic organization my family was a part of through my teens and early twenties. I found online support groups filled with former students like me. These discoveries confirmed things I had always suspected. The flood gates opened. My poor husband listened patiently to many rants, frustrations, and memories. I sorted through truths and lies. I connected and reconnected with people who shared an understanding of my crazy past. It was exciting, healing, and heartbreaking.

I was overwhelmed by the number of people who grew up like me but left Christianity completely. I understood in theory…if what we had experienced was the real God, then no wonder they wanted nothing to do with Him. But it made sad. And it made me question.

Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away too? I knew why.

I’d met Jesus. And while I rejected the legalism, and the ridiculous standards, and the performance driven faith, I couldn’t reject Him. Because I loved Him, and I knew that He loved me. It was worth the fight…it was worth deconstructing and reconstructing my faith to find the real God.”

Impostor Jesus – Christy Lynne Wood

Guys, meeting Jesus changes everything. And the hard work of deconstructing and reconstructing what it means to be a Christian is worth it.

The Real God is more than the religion that we have created. He is more than correct behavior, or emotional experiences, or Christianese phrases.

But He is also more than our own understanding, or feelings, or doubts.

He has legitimate answers to our questions if we are willing to look. And He is a Living Presence who will change our view of reality if we let Him. He is REAL real, but He might also be different than we think He is.

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Hey there! If this is your first time here on my website, I just want to say welcome! I also want to link a few of my other blog posts on this topic so that you don’t have to search through years worth of articles to find them. 🙂

The Value of Losing Our Faith

Why I am Still a Christian

Irony & Apostasy – Finding a Solid Faith

I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

 

Our Need for Real Repentance

 

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If you are like me, and you’ve experienced some degree of spiritual abuse in your life, the word repentance might be triggering. Images of authoritarian control. Waves of guilt and shame. Memories of confessing every possible sin you might have committed.

I want to tell you a story that will hopefully redefine the way you think about repentance.

Both of my children are strong-willed, but my son is particularly stubborn. He will get something in his head and no amount of reasoning, or pushing, or arguing will change his mind. The other day, he was in a mood. I don’t even know what he was upset about, but I do remember that he told me to shut up. We don’t talk like that in our family.

I was working on a puzzle (because, coronavirus) and he was standing there next to me looking miserable, chin jutted out, hands clenched, angry at the world. I calmly reminded him that those kinds of words hurt people and that we don’t talk like that. I acknowledged that he was angry and told him it was okay to feel that way, but that it was not okay to tell his mother to shut up. He glared at me.

My son is really good at being stubborn, but he’s also excellent at repentance.

A few quiet minutes went by while I worked away on my puzzle and he stood there glaring. Then he broke down. There were tears, and hugs, and “I’m sorry, Mama” was whispered in my ear. We snuggled. Our relationship was restored.

True repentance isn’t a power trip by an abusive authority. It isn’t a formula where we confess sins so that bad things will stop. It’s a change of heart. It’s a humble acknowledgement of sin. It’s restoration. 

I’ve been reading the book of Joel the last few days for my morning Jesus Time. It starts with a plague of locusts and a call to repentance. A plague and repentance. It struck me that something has been drastically missing from our social media feeds during this pandemic.

I’ve witnessed anger, frustration, dismay, and fear…

I’ve seen a plethora of conspiracy theories (and even Christian conspiracy theories to debunk the initial theories)…

I’ve read far too many political rants…

But I haven’t observed much repentance.

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If anything, this COVID19 pandemic has reinforced my beliefs in the cores of Christianity. As human beings, we are totally corrupted by sin. This world of ours is definitely broken. And we absolutely need a Savior. There is no shame in admitting these facts, but it does take humility. And that’s where true repentance starts…broken humility.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a lot of my own brokenness over the past two months. I need forgiveness; I need restoration; I need Jesus.

I would like to lead us in a prayer of repentance.

“God, I come to you with empty hands.

I stretch them out before You and admit my lack.

I agree with You that I am broken, helpless, and in need of a Savior.

I repent.

I have forgotten or ignored Your reality,

that You are Who You Are whether or not I acknowledge it,

and instead I have created an image of You that suits my purposes.

Sometimes I don’t want You to be REAL real.

I repent.

I want to believe that I am in control.

I don’t like feeling helpless and afraid.

I don’t want to admit that I am needy.

My pride is strong and I push You away.

I repent.

There is a part of my heart that can only be filled by You,

but I have tried to fill it myself.

You know the things I have used to attempt satisfaction.

None of them work.

I repent.

You say that this world is not my home, but I want to be comfortable.

You say that I will face trouble, but I want peace.

I work so hard to grasp things that will not last

while ignoring things that are eternal.

I repent.

More than control, more than answers, more than peace,

more than comfort, and financial security, and physical health,

I need You.

I open my hands in surrender and I let go.

Show me Who You Are in all Your reality.

All I want is You.

Amen.”

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Friends, first we need personal repentance and then we can move to corporate repentance. There is much that the church needs to repent of and abandon. Stay tuned.

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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

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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