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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lost Your Faith? It's Time to Rebuild, Part 2 - Building on the Foundation

Our home has a pretty open floor plan. We like having less walls and more room to run and play, laugh and dance. We throw balls and climb walls. When the kids were smaller we had a basketball hoop tied to a pillar in our living room. Check it out in the background of this cute picture of Rachel and Ryan.

We designed our home to be practical, usable, a place to have fun.

In fact, we were able to design our home on the computer before it was built. In the original plans, we wanted to have an open kitchen, dining room and living room on the first floor with only one closed room with doors that could serve as a bedroom for an elderly grandparent or parent if it was ever needed.

When the architect looked at our floor plan, he quickly saw the problem. We had no support for the second floor. Unfortunately, if we didn’t put in posts for support, we would have soon had a one story house. It would have collapsed under its own weight.

So, we compromised.

That’s what we do, isn’t it. We have plans and dreams and hopes and desires. Then, we face reality and we make choices. Some things are worth the extra money, extra time, or extra work to have them just so, and other things aren’t. They just aren’t that important.

Some walls in our house are weight bearing walls; others are simply for design purposes. Together they make up the structure of our house.

Confuse the two when we are doing remodeling and there can be big problems.

The same can be said for our houses of faith. Assuming that we are building on a solid foundation, (To see Part 1 of this series to learn more about a solid foundation, click here) we need supporting walls. These are important truths that aren’t foundational.

In fact, a solid foundation is so singular, so precise, there is no room for most of our beliefs. Besides the foundational belief, everything else falls in one of two categories. beliefs are either structural or décor.

The Structure

What are these structural beliefs? Here are a few examples of what might be structural to you.

(For some, these concepts might not have an impact on your faith and so for you they wouldn't be structural but rather part of the décor. For others, some of these beliefs may take priority over others. Those that take priority would be weight bearing walls.)

Is the Bible inspired by God? Is it true? Does it contain errors and misrepresentations of God, people, the earth, etc.? And to what extent?

Was the world created in 7 literal days? Was it created over millions of years? Was there a literal Adam and Eve or are they representations or symbols?

Was Christ truly born of a virgin? Did he know that he was the Son of God all His life or did he learn that as he grew up? What was the significance of his baptism by John?

What is our responsibility to the poor, to the outcast, to prisoners, to modern day slaves, to the mentally ill, to the physically disabled, to any who are oppressed?

What is our responsibility to the world, to our countries, to our people, to our culture? Are we to evangelize with words or deeds or both? As citizens, what is our responsibility? Are we to vote if we are able?

Will there be a rapture? Is the anti-Christ really coming? Will there be a thousand years when Christ will reign on this earth? Or are these symbolic ways to understand the end times?

Our perspectives about communion, baptism, the church, the differences between men and women, etc. are all structural beliefs. Some are more important than others based on our perspective.

These are our structural beliefs and though they change over time, they give shape to our faith. Some years, we focus on activism. Others we lean inward for spiritual renewal and growth. Some years we focus on grief and healing. Others we lean toward celebration.

Like my physical house, my house of faith has an open floor plan. I have some main pillars for support, but lots of open spaces for conversation and interaction. If we can agree on our foundation, I am not closed off to too many ideas. I love discussing beliefs with others who have well-thought out floor plans of faith.

What your house of faith looks like, depends largely on how you answer this question: What beliefs are important to me? What beliefs, if they changed, would change how I perceive God, myself, and the world around me?

My advice to you is to build slowly, methodically. Hold everything lightly with open hands. Begin forming your opinions but keep an open mind. And never be afraid to tear down one of these beliefs and start over. But, do so deliberately, lovingly. We want our homes and our house of faith to be inviting and welcoming. We want them to be a safe place for us and for others.

If we have too many firm, unshakable beliefs, we might feel more secure, safer. We might feel like we are defending the true faith. But, what happens is we build lots of walls in our home. Our rooms become cramped and uncomfortable. Others don't feel welcome. And our faith house becomes a cold and uninviting place.

Build your house of faith with love and grace.

The Décor

The décor is what makes us feel at home. If you live in a house, think what it would be like if you removed all of your stuff and went to live somewhere else. Then, someone buys the house and moves in all of their stuff.

Is it the same house? Yes, of course.

But, is it your home? No, not really.

The furniture is different.
The paintings are different.
The feel is different.
The smell is different.
It just isn’t home.
That is what I mean by décor.

Décor is what makes your faith your own. If you and I took a multiple choice test on what we believe, we may check the same boxes off. But, our faith is still different.

Faith is mysterious that way. It can be shared in the sense that we can journey together with others, grow together, enjoy their company, but we never have the same faith. Our faith is unique, personal.

My house of faith is fit for me, right now. But over the years it has looked quite different. My tastes have changed. I like to spend more time alone than I did 20 years ago. Where I used to wear vibrant colors, I now enjoy more earth tones. As I have changed, my décor has changed.

But, the house, the house has remained pretty much the same since seminary.

I used to judge others based on my house of faith. I would assume that if others disagreed with me, it was because they were wrong and I was right. I didn't realize that their faith could be right for them though it was wrong for me.

It sounds so much like relativism as I type it. But, it is something much more. It is the infinite ability of a loving God to meet each of us where we are and not just leave us there, but to guide and lead and love us toward Himself.

Every person’s faith is unique. Each person’s relationship with Christ develops differently over time based on things that we cannot quantify or calculate.

Every house of faith is unique, specific to the person who lives there.

The Belief Test: Which Belief Is Which

If you aren't sure whether a belief is foundational, structural or décor, take this simple test:

Is it worth dying for? Is it worth living for?
Is it important? Does it add to my understanding of God, faith, and life?
Is it something that makes me feel comfortable and feels fresh and new?

My foundation is worth dying for.

Almost all of the apostles and many Christians to this day, have been martyred for their faith because they would not deny their foundation. Some report that more have been killed in the past century than at any other time in history. By one estimate, the year 2000 was the peak at 160,000 martyred for their faith in Christ. (The report acknowledges that the faith of individuals cannot be determined with certainty, so they calculate how many were killed because they were believed to be Christians.)

My foundation is also worth living for. I can spend the rest of my life in the service of Christ, sharing the good news of eternal life, the Gospel and I won't regret it. I won't.

But, my structure… not so much.

I wouldn’t choose to die to defend the right to have an abortion or a law making it illegal to have one. I wouldn’t die for Creation vs. the Big Bang, the virginal conception of Christ, a method of baptism, or details about communion.

My structural beliefs are real and important because they help me to make sense of my life and my faith. But, they are not worth living or dying for.

My décor? I hate even wasting breath on those. I could argue for or against them. Based on the time of day or what I had for dinner last night, I could argue either side depending on who wanted to argue with me. It just isn’t worth it. They make me feel comfortable. They bring a smile to my face. They are not important.

Throughout History

Denominations split over structural beliefs. Churches divide over décor. Individuals leave churches over décor. Rarely do we ever find ourselves arguing over foundational truths.

What Now?

Check your foundation. Do you have a relationship with Christ? (To see Part 1 of this series to learn more about a solid foundation, click here).

The fastest and simplest way to build your structural beliefs is to read the Bible and pray. Study the Bible. As you read, listen to the Holy Spirit guiding you. What resonates with your soul? What makes you feel alive and refreshes your soul?

When you lose your faith, it is normal to give up or feel lost and confused. Be patient with yourself. Rebuild your faith slowly and deliberately. Find some friends and let them be your church, your fellow journeyers in the faith.

There will be some rough times ahead. Be gracious to yourself and others. Your new house of faith might look quite different than what used to be acceptable to your old friends.

Give them time to adjust as you grow and change.

Don't build your walls to shut people out. Build them to welcome people and invite them in. As your house of faith takes shape you will be more and more comfortable with it. But, don't wait until its finished before you have guests.

May God bless you as you build. He is faithful and will guide you.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lost Your Faith? It's Time to Rebuild - Part 1 - The Foundation

If you are able to read this, then my confident belief is that you have faith. I agree with James Fowler and many other experts in the field of faith development…

"I believe faith is a human universal." (from Stages of Faith)

If it is true that we all have faith, then I believe that it is also true that all of us have had or will have serious doubts about our faith.

When we realize that we have put our faith in the wrong things or the wrong people, we come to a crisis of faith. We have to choose what to keep and what to throw away. And, sometimes, we have to start all over from scratch.

Do you feel like you've lost your faith?

Do you wonder what is true, what is real?

Do you want to start over, but don't know how?

This is a guide to rebuilding your faith, when you realize that you have based your life on a faith that is a lie. When you realize that you no longer have faith in the things you used to believe.

Re-Building a House of Faith

When I talk about faith, I like to use the illustration of a house. A house has a foundation, structure, and décor.

If you build a new foundation, it is because you want to build a new house. So, it is important to make sure the foundation is solid before you start building. That way the house will last a lifetime.

In house building, you usually start with the blueprints, the layout of the house that you want and then you build a foundation to fit under and support it
Not so with a house of faith.

A house of faith can only be built once you have chosen a foundation. This is the first level of your faith. It is where you must begin. Your first choice.

If you feel like you have lost your faith, you may recognize something from this list that you had put your faith in.

Myself - Talent, Intellect, Charisma
Religion - Superstition, Idolatry, Rituals, Tradition
My Feelings - Love, Revenge
Others’ Expectations - Parents, Teachers, Friends, My Own
Financial Security - Work, Wealth, Inheritance, the Lottery
Logic - Science, Reason, Education, Training
Personal Righteousness - Purity, Perfectionism, Comparison to Others
Heritage - Ancestry, Family Name
Political Power - Manipulating Others for Personal Gain
Strength - Physical Power, Emotional Distance

Did you find something there that you had trusted? Something that proved to be false and untrustworthy?
We tend to trust what seems to work. We trust our senses, our education, our parents or our tradition. We trust ourselves and whatever gives us the illusion of being in control.

Whether we feel that we have these things or just are working toward them, we can easily be deceived and think that these things are worthy of our trust. So, we put our faith in them.

We all have a tendency to put our faith in the wrong things. When we do, we wind up having a weak foundation for our house of faith. When the storms of life come, our houses can easily crumble.

I am a Christian, so I truly believe that the only solid foundation is the Gospel message, a relationship with Christ. I believe that any other foundation, at best, is incomplete and at worst is a complete lie.

If you disagree, please bear with me. Look at that list above. People have put their faith in everyone of those things. Each one is dependent on people. People fail. We fail. I fail. You fail. Putting our complete trust in a person, even ourselves, can't work.

If we build our lives on trusting a person, our faith will be broken and we will have to rebuild... again. And, if you are thinking about rebuilding now or have had to in the past, you know how painful it is, how confusing it is and how the sooner we can start building on the right foundation, the better.

A foundation built on a lie is like building on sand. The house can be perfectly formed with beautiful architecture and magnificently decorated. But, the first sign of a major storm, of waves or a strong wind and the whole house crumbles. Without a firm foundation, the house has no anchor, no strength.

But, a foundation built on the truth of Christ is like building on solid rock that cannot be shaken. Storms, waves, wind cannot destroy what has been built.

The Solid Foundation

Our only hope for a solid foundation is a relationship with Christ. This is based on the immeasurable, matchless love that God has for us all and His infinite grace.

When we surrender our need to control and figure out and manipulate and twist and turn,

When we see that all that we do to make a sure foundation is faulty and twisted by our own sinfulness,

When we admit that we are too weak to even try to build a new foundation, we are starting to get close.

We realize that we are overwhelmingly broken and hurting and in need and we cry out to God and say, I can't rebuild. I have lost faith. I have lost hope.

I can't go on.
 I can't try again.
  I can't even begin.
   I just can't.

Then, we are ever so close. It is here that God meets us. It is here that God who has loved us each moment of our lives pours out His love and grace and offers us His son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus, who was sinless Himself, laid down His life. Though many cried out, "Crucify him!" and others nailed him to the cross, no one took his life from him.

He laid it down.

He gave his life freely, because of his love and the love of His Father. He chose death, so that we could have life.

He laid down his life and then he picked it back up. He died to pay the penalty for our sins and then he rose again so that we too might one day rise again to have life, to be forever with the Father.

This is the foundation. Receiving the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

This gift is the only solid foundation. It is a gift, freely given and must be received to be enjoyed.

Any other foundation is built on us, our efforts, our abilities, our strength.
Every other foundation will fail because we fail. We sin.
Christ and his love never fail. His grace is enough.

This is the foundation that we all can depend on.

If you want this foundation but need more help in receiving it, it is spoken about throughout the Bible. Read the book of Romans and ask God to reveal to you the truth of the Gospel. He is faithful and will gladly receive you, forgive you and give you eternal life.

Romans 3:23 - For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 10-8-13 - “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

There is no magic prayer to pray or special ceremony. But, if you choose to rebuild your house of faith on the foundation of a relationship with Christ. A prayer like this might be helpful to you:

"God, I have tried. I have tried to trust and to believe, but my house of faith is not strong. It is weak because I have sinned. I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. I believe. I believe that He died to give me the gift of eternal life. So, I choose to put my trust in him and to receive that gift. I trust you to help me build a house of faith that is true and real and will last for my entire life. I trust you. In Jesus, my Savior's name, I pray, Amen."

(Please leave a comment or contact me if you want more help in understanding this good news. It has transformed my life, and it can yours as well.)

Part 2 of this blog talks about the structure and decor of your house of faith. Click here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Losing Faith: The Best Thing that Could Have Happened to Me

Going to College

When I left high school, I was a leader in my church youth group. I had brought people to youth group with me. Our youth group leader had led some of them to Christ, and I was confident in my faith.

I arrived at college a couple of weeks early to try out for the soccer team, so the place was pretty much deserted. Parties were held every night, but alcohol wasn't appealing to me, so I spent a lot of time alone.

Current research out of the Fuller Youth Institute suggests that the first two weeks of college are crucial for students. Most students will fall into some temptation or other, but how they deal with it, who they talk to about it and how much they dwell on it can set the tone for the rest of their time away from home.

After classes started for real, I wanted to make some friends, but I felt completely out of my element. So I decided to go out partying with a friend from high school. I still didn't drink, but I didn't know what else to do, so I went along and became the designated driver.

One time, there were eight or nine of us heading to a party. So, my friend from high school hopped in the trunk and rode to the party.

That was the most memorable thing that happened that night. The party was boring. I played quarters, a drinking game, but I drank shots of Sprite. It was stupid. The atmosphere was bizarre and kind of surreal. I felt totally out of place and had no desire to do what it took to feel "in place".

At the next party, I found myself wandering around on the street outside a frat house. They had supposedly spiked the punch with pure grain alcohol that wouldn't leave any alcohol taste. They had two flavors and kept serving my friends grape instead of cherry. They figured that the alcohol was only being served to the frat guys and the girls because none of my friends were getting drunk. So, I offered to get a cup, assuming that I could taste the alcohol or more quickly feel the effects of it since I was a non-drinker.

I couldn't taste anything and didn't feel a buzz. I told them they were probably being pranked and went outside to walk around.

I found another non-drinker, Antoine, who was also looking to make friends.

We ate some donuts, began talking and stopped going to parties.We had found what we were looking for. We made another friend, Pete and eventually we all became suite mates.

Pete and I found a church and joined a couple of Christian clubs on campus. I felt confident that I had survived the transition to college without losing my faith.

House of Faith

I like to use the analogy of a house when I talk about faith. It takes time to build. We each build our homes differently based on lots of variables from life experience to personality to circumstances.

And a house has three important aspects: the foundation, the structure and the décor.

I was sure that I had a firm foundation. Unfortunately, I was inexperienced and had little understanding of my faith. So, I began to build out instead of up.
Like an untrained builder, I was building my house away from the foundation. It hung off the edges and was supported by my intellect, personality, wit and logic. I was trusting in the wrong things. I was trusting largely in myself and my ability to understand and interpret the teaching of others. I became the judge of what was right and wrong.

(I looked for a picture on the internet of a house built hanging out away from a solid foundation, but there aren't any. I guess that's because no one does that. Here's one interesting picture I found, though.)

bed, dreams house, hanging house, nature, open house

I could explain my points and “win” some arguments.

Then I had the talk (which I mentioned in an earlier blog, click here) with my father, an ongoing conversation that lasted for a whole summer.

That conversation shook my house of faith. It washed away all of the things that had no foundation and damaged the structural integrity of those things that did. I wasn’t sure what I could trust, what was real.

I learned to trust my intellect from my Dad. And my intellect and his intellect led us to different places.

I felt paralyzed by fear. I was afraid to think that I had been wrong. I was afraid to think that I had wasted so much of my life and energy on lies.

In time, I discovered that my foundation was unshaken, undamaged. I still believed in Christ. I still had a relationship with Christ. And, that was the realization I needed in order to have the courage to keep going. I tore down the rest of the house and started over.

I began to rebuild my house of faith. I read the Bible through from beginning to end. I started paying closer attention to what I was being taught. I checked things with Scripture. I had not learned the difference between exegesis, drawing conclusions out from the Scripture, and eisegesis, reading one’s ideas into the Bible, (e.g. drawing conclusions and then finding Scripture to support it). So, I still was making lots of assumptions, but I was sticking closer to my foundational beliefs.

Losing Faith, Again

So, my second house of faith was more carefully built.

In seminary, post-graduate training for a life as a pastor, I found myself in another storm. Even after what I had been through the first time, I wasn't ready for this.

I knew that my professors were incredibly intelligent. I believed that they loved Christ. And yet, they were telling me that many of the things I had been taught in church and Sunday School were untrue.

They taught me to study the Bible as literature. They taught me new ways of understanding the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. They taught me to question everything that I had learned up to that point.

I realized that so much of what I believed was based on other people’s opinions and interpretations of the Scripture rather than a prayerful, careful study of them. In seminary, I learned that there are many different ways to interpret the Bible and each way was inadequate to grasp the richness and wonder and glory of God.

They taught me to stop striving for the right answers and start striving for honest answers.

I learned to say, "That's not really clear from Scripture. There are different views on that. My best understanding is..."

God is an Ocean

To use a different analogy, as a teen, I was taught about the ocean, that is God, and thought that I had grasped it. I was taught about its vastness and its power. I was taught how to understand it.

After my conversation with my Dad, I began to visit the ocean, to feel the breezes, smell the salt filled air, and put my feet in the wet sand. I met artists on the beach painting seascapes and eventually I even started trying to capture it for myself.

In seminary, I learned to swim. I gave up the hope of ever capturing the ocean with my ideas or pictures, and I embraced its greatness and enjoyed exploring its beauty. I let it wash over me and envelop me.

The ocean is powerful. Most days, I stay close to the shore afraid of what the deep waters might bring. But, some days I feel brave, I trust God a little more, and I lose sight of the land for a little while. I like those days... when all there is is God. (Writing about it now is making me long for it. I need to plan my next trip.)

Katie frolicking in Washington, on the Pacific Coast

So, with the help of my professors, I tore down my house of faith again. This time, I knew the foundation was good. I even kept some of the weight bearing walls. My relationship with Christ was strong. It had stood the test of time.

And, then, over three years, they taught me how to build. I was free to build and shape my house however I wanted. Each paper I wrote, each discussion in class, and each personal encounter about some theological concept or practical ministry decision was an opportunity for them to show me the strength and weakness of my construction.

They taught me to know the limitations of my understanding and my theology, to hold my ideas with humility and grace. They helped me to see how my personality, experiences, and upbringing led me to certain beliefs. Others with different backgrounds were led in other ways.

My way wasn’t the right way and the other way wrong. Each had its strengths and weaknesses. Each was incomplete. But, they both provided shelter, security and a way to understand the world around us.

After having my house torn down twice already, I was afraid to build anything. They helped me get over my fear of saying, “I believe…” this or that. To begin construction again. But, they also helped me to engage with other beliefs without fear of losing my own faith.

After 21 years in ministry, my house of faith is still standing on the rock, the true foundation, Jesus Christ. I have moved some walls and definitely changed the décor, but

my faith is secure.

I appreciate the shelter that it provides, trusting God to hold me even if the walls fall again.

Our God is faithful. He will carry us through every trial. He only tears down our faith so that he can rebuild it again, stronger.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Enjoy Each Moment: 9+ Reasons to Kneel

To fall to your knees is a sign of submission. It is an admission of inferiority, of weakness. When you kneel before a king, you acknowledge that you are subject to him. After a defeat in war or because of your position in life, kneeling was a sign that your life was in the hands of the one to whom you are bowing.

If you have been a Christian for some time, getting down on your knees may remind you of praying. But, for everyone else, you probably think about discomfort: scrubbing the kitchen floor, getting down to work under a car, or picking up broken glass off the tile floor. Kneeling means work.

But some of the greatest moments we have in life require us to kneel.

Here are some of the best reasons to get down on your knees.

1 - To play in the sand.

2 - To find that perfect book from the bottom shelf.

3 - To look her in the eye.

4 - To propose to your wife.

5 - To skip a rock across a pond.

6 - To wrestle.

7 - To make a new friend.

8 -To get just the right angle.

9 - To play with your Buddy.

And, as I mentioned before, to pray and to thank God for the ability to get back up again.

When we kneel down to enjoy the moment, we slow down and are reminded of what makes this life worth living. 

If we can remember the love that caused us to get down on our knees in the first place, we will remember why we need to get up and keep going.

Life is good. Enjoy each moment.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Message Received: Thank You Brennan Manning for a Grace Well Lived

Brennan Manning died Friday morning on April 12, 2013. He revolutionized my view of grace. He unabashedly revealed his sins without glorifying them in the least. He talked openly about his weakness and failures. 

He wrote about sinful actions. He was an alcoholic. But, he also wrote about his sinfulness as a person. His lying and deception, his character flaws. he didn't portray himself as a good guy who messed up a little or even a lot.

He portrayed himself as a sinner through and through. It rocked my world and helped me to face my own sinfulness.

But, he didn't wallow in it or let us, his readers, wallow. He persistently pointed us to Christ to receive grace and forgiveness. He led us there with child-like honesty and vulnerability.

He showed us the power of grace to transform our lives and invited us to join him in a new way of living. (Here is my story of receiving that grace in a previous blog.)

Church can sometimes be a place where grace is mentioned but not lived.

I did my dissertation on the spiritual development of children raised in church culture. One of the young ladies I interviewed talked about her initial rejection of and eventual acceptance and appreciation of Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel. Here is some of my interview with her:

"I read [Ragamuffin Gospel] and this is literally what I said at the end, “This book is a joke, this isn’t true.  You shouldn’t be allowed to mess up like this and then be able to write about it and make other people think it’s okay.”

That was my impression of that book and I couldn’t understand what anybody saw in it.  I thought it was absolutely wrong and that nobody…you shouldn’t promote things like that.

And then, I got pregnant and when I got pregnant before I was married, all of a sudden I got that Ragamuffin Gospel and now I get it because it’s not about, it’s not about perfect people and what he said in that book, the Gospel is not for perfect people.  It is for alcoholics, it is for drug addicts and it is for people who have premarital sex and all these other things.

That is what Jesus came for, and yet I grew up in a home where it was – it’s not that you earned your salvation, but it was just that constant, you have to be perfect and you don’t accept people…

“Well she did (this and that) so we’re not friends with them anymore.”
“We don’t talk to them, they do this.”

I wish I had grown up with the acceptance of people who had flaws, as opposed to this rejection of people who had any sort of flaws."

Interviewer - Do you feel like you actually adopted that belief [of judging people and expecting perfection] based on your response to the Ragamuffin Gospel.

"Absolutely, ...[my husband] and I went to marital counseling a year and a half ago, ... and I was so set for this man to sit and tell [my husband] everything that was wrong with his family, cause there were glaring issues, and he actually got me to realize that I had adopted exactly what my parents did to me, which was reject everybody if there’s something. If somebody has an issue, you reject that person, and just that perfection and that lack of love.

And it actually started a year long journey, which is very difficult when you have children.  I’m just sort of finding for me what love actually is. Whoa, forget it, children and marriage.  It’s just sort of, it’s huge and it was an absolute break in the way that I have viewed the world for, up to that point, 30 years.

It was a massive change of a world view and absolutely I had adopted that, probably unknowingly, because what’s the [hardest mask to realize you are wearing] “You’re doing what’s right.”  So why would I ever doubt what I was doing was wrong because I was doing what was right. 

So you’re trying to do what’s right…. “Of course I have my flaws but it was always within reason.  You know, it wasn’t a really bad flaw, it was just a minor flaw and not as bad as that person over there.”  That type of situation.  So yeah, yeah, I definitely did.  I adopted [their judgmentalism and rejection of anyone who wasn’t perfect]."

Brennan Manning was a great guy, don't get me wrong. But, he didn't transform this young woman's life.

The grace of God transformed her life.

And, Brenning Manning's willingness to share his story of receiving that grace was a window that she could look through. And when she looked through that window, she rejected Brennan, but when she saw her own reflection in that window, her life was changed.

Rather than choosing to reject herself and run from God for fear of more rejection, she opened herself to receive His love and forgiveness, to embrace the Gospel of grace.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When Church is an Unsafe Place: An Open Invitation to Our Home Church

Churches can too often become a place to hide. We know that something is wrong in our lives. We know that we desperately need something, something real, something worthwhile, purpose, vision, hope, help. We think we may need God. But, we know we don't want people snooping around in our business. We want God not gossip, not pain.

So, we go to church and we hide, hoping that we can find God or God can find us (however that works) in time before our stuff that we want to hide comes out and messes everything up.

The homosexual man hides his feelings because he is afraid that he will be judged and condemned. He assumes that people there would reject him because of the way they talk about homosexuals and homosexuality in their Bible Study groups, sermons, and prayer requests.

The same can be said for the teen girl who dresses in black and wears dark make-up. She hides too. And, the single mom who can't seem to keep her kids quiet during church. And, the parents with 7 kids who are judged for not stopping after 4. Actually, too often, we all feel judged, and it stinks.

There is such a huge gap between what we see in church and what we see in Christ. In church, we see people judging others (and us) and in Scripture we see Christ forgiving and extending grace.

         Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
         “No, Lord,” she said.
          And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

What an amazing picture of God's grace! But, even here, those who prefer judgment will say, "Yeah, but Jesus told her she had to stop sinning. (So-and-so) hasn't left their sin, they are celebrating it."

But for the rest of us, we not only read about Christ's forgiveness, His love, His grace, we feel it.

We feel the peace that is left when His Spirit cleanses us. We feel the relief of being honest, being vulnerable and spiritually naked before God and then having Him cover our nakedness with His grace.

When we see these inconsistencies between our faith community and our relationship with God, we might ask a typical question of faith development, “Who am I apart from being a member of this community?” or "Can I be Christian and not be a part of a church?"

It is crucial for us to ask this type of question as part of our ongoing journey to discover our true identity.

It may sound like I am advocating leaving your church behind and becoming a "solo Christian" (Someone who loves Jesus but hates the church. Someone who says they follow Jesus apart from any faith community). But I am not.

The fear is that we will leave the church, so some discourage this kind of thinking. And, inadvertently, promote hiding. Instead of facing the truth, we learn to hide our doubts, hide our fears, and ignore the Holy Spirit's urging to be honest.

And, there are lots of people hiding in churches.

Don't be one of them! Please. There is so much more.


James Fowler, a groundbreaking author and researcher in the field of faith development, wrote that, "from the beginning of our lives we are faced with the challenge of finding or composing some kind of order, unity and coherence in the force fields of our lives.”[1]

He noticed that we use our imaginations. We make up a satisfying worldview to explain what we see all around us, to make connections and find commonalities.

We experience people and cultures, beliefs and concepts. We also have our own feelings and experiences, relationships and insights. And, the more we take it all in, the more compelled we feel to create a comprehensive image to explain them.

We want to know, "How can I make sense of it all?"

When our belief that we need to be a part of a church clashes with our realization that the church is not always a nice place, we need to use our imaginations to test out some new theories.

The Problem with Church

In our churches and faith communities, we find people who are mean, people with bad tempers, people who worry, people who lie, people who are manipulative, and every other kind of people.

The place to start when faced with sinfulness in the church is with the question I mentioned before, "Can I be a Christian and not be a part of a church?"

When you have taken the time to face your own fear, doubts, and sin, the answer will be "Absolutely!"

But, don't stop there and walk away from the church.

Realizing that we don't need a church in order to be a Christian, we need to ask why God gave us churches, faith communities, in the first place.

What's the use?

Churches were meant to be a community of people (not a building) that cares for one another. Whether you are in a church of 25 or a church of 25,000, if that is not happening, then something is broken.

As Christians, we have a high calling, to make disciples of all nations. We desire to bring the kingdom of God to earth. That is joyful work for sure, but it can be difficult and exhausting.

We need others who share our calling and our love for God. We need to encourage one another and support one another. We need each other.

If you knew your dog needed a bath, would you keep bringing him to groomer who had a beautiful bath tub, wonderful smelling soap, and great prices, but had no water?


So why do you go to a church that has a pretty building, friendly people, comfortable pews, great music, and whatever else makes you feel good about it, but has no love? Without love it is impossible to please God. They will know that we are Christ's followers by our love.

Go to a church that is a community, people who have learned to depend upon one another.

Our solution and your solution

As a family, we have chosen to create a new faith community.

We are pursuing our faith through relationships.

As an individual, I alone am responsible for my actions, my thoughts, my words, and my feelings.

As a member of our faith community, I am fully engaged in the lives of those in my community. I am responsible to love and respect and encourage and pray for and bear the burdens of those in the community.

Our home church is small. It is relational. It is open and welcoming to others. It is just right for us right now.

We invite others to join us in worship, in prayer, in love, in meals and in life. We invite them into our home and there we share life and love and faith with them. We share ourselves and invite them to share as much of themselves as they would like.

We strive to get to know and accept people where they are. That means that we expect the two year old to act like a two year old and the new believer to have questions and the pregnant woman to be uncomfortable and the 11 year old boy to be antsy. And, we expect everyone to show love and to need love.

It is messy because it is filled with real people living their real lives. (Our life together is not marked by smooth musical transitions.)

It is holy.

It is filled with love and acceptance, with grace.

That’s our solution. What’s yours?

As I mentioned in the beginning, your solution could be to be a solo Christian. But that is not a solution, that is more hiding. Instead of hiding in the back pew, it is hiding in your living room.

Dig deeper, find out why you want to hide, and then find a faith community that will love you as you are and walk with you in the next steps of your spiritual journey.

If you are part of a church because you feel like you have no choice, you will keep hiding, hiding your faults, hiding your sins, hiding your doubts, hiding your opinions out of fear that others will discover that you don't really belong.

But, when you have found your identity in Christ, then you will be free to be yourself in your faith community. When you don't have to be in church to be a Christian, you can choose to be in church, fully honest and open able to give and receive love and grace.

Only after you can stop hiding can you receive all that God has for you and give all that you are to those around you. Then you can ask those other, secondary questions:

"Is this the right place for me? Have I found a community where I can be myself, where my participation in the community doesn’t require me to hide who I really am?"

Your Invitation

You are welcome to join our home church. We would love to share our lives with you. Really. I would love for you to experience the hope and peace, love and grace that we share.

But that option may not be desirable to some and doesn’t help those of you who are reading this in Germany.

Don’t settle for anything less than true community centered in Christ, in His love and His grace.

You may discover that you are in the right church already. Or, you may choose to start a new faith community like we did. Or, you may find a different community that you believe will be right for you. Or, maybe you can begin to change the one you are in.

Even when we have been hurt by people in a faith community, now is the time to forgive, to trust again, and be honest. Face your fear and find a group of people who will love and accept you for who you are and walk with you as you travel on in your journey with Christ.

Our personal identity in Christ will be the strength upon which we can build Christian community with others.

True Christian community is life-giving, encouraging, supportive, and challenging to our faith. Don't settle for anything else.

Join a faith community that knows you and won't allow you to act like a Christian without being one.

1 James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 24.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How to Talk about the Boston Tragedy with Your Children

Here is a resource that we used after the 9/11/01 tragedy. I am not sure how much of it I wrote and how much I used from another source. So, I won't claim any of it as my own, but I hope it will help you talk about this and other tragedies with your children. I hope it will be an encouragement to you as parents try to talk to their children about the tragedy in Boston today:

Tuesday was a day that scarred our country and the images will scar our memories forever. There is no way to erase these memories from our minds or our children’s minds. Know that God is in control (Dan. 4:35, Is.44: 8,45:5,6,21, Pr.21:1) and He is the only one that can bring peace and security to us and our children. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Knowing that peace only comes from God, what can we as parents do to help our children and one another deal with this tragedy? Here are some suggestions that may help.

1-       Pray often. Pray before you discuss this with your children. Pray with your children about the tragedy. Pray for your children to be able to trust God through it. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

2-       Be calm. Show your children that this is a tragedy, but that your faith in God is still strong and you are not afraid. If you are afraid, explain what you are afraid of and why. Be specific.- DZ (1 John 4:18)

3-       Be completely truthful. You don’t have to tell your children everything, but everything you tell them must be completely true. Do not conjecture about the culprits or about survivors or the response of the country. Just speak of the truth as best you know it. (Ephesians 4:25) “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

4-       Be honest but explain to children only as much as they can handle.  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” Toddlers will only know that something is wrong, but no details. 4-6 year olds may understand that there was a crash and that people are hurt, but they need not know about terrorism or hate or death. Older elementary students will hear more, but certainly try to keep them as much as possible from seeing the TV images, which may give them nightmares. Junior high students and less mature high school students will understand everything and want to see the images, but will not internalize it as much. They will need to talk about it and will focus on details and information. Mature junior high students and most senior high students will need to talk about the details and about how they are feeling. Here it is good to share some of your concerns and confusion and sadness and anger. They will be having similar feelings. Allow them to express these as much as they want. They may rather express them to peers or other trusted adults. That is ok. Don’t feel shut out or try to force them to open up to you. . We must guard our speech so that we don’t say anything negative or hateful even in jest or casually in conversation that might point blame to “Arabs”, “Muslims”, “politicians” or any group as a whole.

5-      Bring them to God. Whether your children are infants or adults, they need to know that when you are stressed, you turn to Christ for strength. Do this by modeling prayer for them, searching the Scriptures instead of watching TV. Allow them to see you receiving God’s grace and then share what God is revealing to you. Show them Scriptures concerning God’s control and His unending love. (Psalm 46 and Jeremiah 31:3)

6-        Teach them that God is not taken by surprise. Then, teach them that the consequences of sin are bad. (Romans 6:21,2321 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”)

7-       Then teach them that if we never saw the consequences of sin until we died, we would be more drawn into it and would see only its pleasure. If they are old enough to understand teach them not to hate, teach them about the evil of racism.

8-       Older students will also want to know what they can do to help. Find out ways that they can actively participate in helping. Donating blood, donating money, praying, helping out a local family who has lost a loved one or even serving local firefighters, policemen, and EMS workers. Show them that the response to HATE is LOVE, not revenge.

May God bless you and your family as you recover and allow God to heal you and your children from this incredibly personal and national tragedy?

Trusting God with you.