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For Your Consideration 7.12.13

I received “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” by Frank Viola today! Very excited to dig in and offer a review in the coming days.

In the meantime,here are a couple of blog posts published at Desiring God that challenged and encouraged me this week:

If you have not read anything by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, you really must. This piece will give you a taste of not only her story, but her exceptional writing style. An excerpt:

The Bible is not some pragmatist’s paradigm. It is the double-edged sword that chiseled truth into my stony heart, rendering it new and with it, recreating me as a new creature in Christ, a daughter of the King. I have no personal sexual orientation to call my own after Christ chisels my heart anew — and neither do you. We have Christ orientation, an alien identity to which we claim no rights. Do we struggle with sin? Yes. Is temptation a sin? No. What distinguishes temptation from sin? Temptation clobbers you from the outside and lures you to do its bidding. Sin makes temptation a house pet, gets it a collar and leash, and is deceived to believe that it can be restrained by impositions of civility. What you do with temptation reveals Who owns your heart. How you talk about other people’s sin patterns reveals Who owns your heart.

Read the rest here in her post called, DOMA and the Rock.

The second, written by Jonathan Parnell, is Three Things We Should Know About God. And I confess, “Creator” was one of my three. Think of three things that come to your heart and mind when you think of God then read this post. I promise you will be thankful and encouraged. Here’s a sample:

When you think of God, do you think happy? Or do you think stern? Sadly, it is common for us to think of God as a negative caricature would depict him. Do you think of him frowning? Is he seething with anger like a capricious despot? Or do you see him who is glad at heart — glad in the glory of his Son and the communion that they share? Do we see him as the Father who said of Jesus, with no hesitation, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)? Do we see him as the Father who delights to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32)? Do we see him as the God who overflows with joy when a sinner repents (Luke 15:7)?

So long as sin exists, he feels indignation every day (Psalm 7:11). But at heart — who he is in himself — God is happy. To grasp this truth will work wonders in our souls.

Keep feeding your mind and soul with GOOD things. Drink deeply from God’s rich word, and never stop learning, seeking, growing, thirsting, following hard after Him.

Blessings on you this weekend!

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The Shunned: When Church Goes Terribly Wrong

There is a “Christian fiction” (I always feel odd using that phrase) series about the Amish, and one of the best sellers, called “The Shunning,” is about an old traditional practice of ostracizing a member of the faith for some grievous sin. While this may seem an odd practice to most American Christians it is certainly most alive and well in many controlling church communities.

If you’re with me this far, you might assume I am referring to some backwater church made up of all relatives or perhaps a cult that manipulates its members. You’d be wrong on the first, and getting warmer on the second. I call these churches “borderline cult” (my friend calls them “cultish”) and I was a member of two: One in Hawaii and one in the Bay Area of California, neither were backwater, and neither made up of all relatives. And I was “shunned” from both.

They don’t call it that. These grace-less churches misuse scriptures like Ephesians 5:6-7 in their anti-love behavior. (WAIT!: Isn’t “anti-love” the same is “hate”? Hmm…) People who are in these types of churches are either the victimizer or the victim. Or they are completely ignorant. Sometimes they are all three as they morph their way through the muck and mire of these communities. The manipulation and deception is so powerful, it is (as a lovely, young friend of mine said) like being in a smoke-filled room – you don’t realize how you are being poisoned.

Here is the kicker: I was in leadership in both of these churches I mention. So by default I was a victimizer. (“Isn’t this how all churches operate?”) And I was also the victim, manipulated from the beginning to believe twisted scripture and ultimately allowed to be controlled to the point of questioning truth, logic and good common sense.  I was ignorant to the fact that this was so NOT what Christ intended the church to be. In many ways the community was refreshing and vibrant, non-traditional and different and offered things that had been missing in my life. It’s easier to rest in ignorance when there are some things to value in spite of things to reject.

BUT, OH! When you don’t conform, when the smoke clears a little and you start to SEE, when you start to ask questions and point to God’s word as the standard-bearer; OR when you mess up and fall into some sin or other (and here again, “sin” could be simply non-conformance to non-scriptural behaviors, or not being or acting the way leadership thinks you should) or if you leave for another church (any of these will do), then you are SHUNNED!

I remember in Hawaii, when after I left the church for a year having had all the controlling I could take, people walking down the same side of the street as me would cross to the other side to avoid any interaction!  No one called, no one asked how I was or what I was doing. Same in California (the issue was far less about control and more about manipulation) – not only did no one seek me out, the truth was so twisted that I still can’t believe it. And this was after I had been on staff and on the worship team and a leader in women’s ministries. Victimizer. Victim. Ignorant.

THANK GOD many (probably most) of the folks formerly in these churches have left. We have grown and are healing and are currently in healthy churches who understand Christ came to heal the sick. We understand that people will know we are His followers by our LOVE for one another. Many relationships have been restored. But some, sadly, have yet to bring themselves to find a healthy community of believers. And others, even more sadly, continue to cloister themselves within these abusive churches. They separate themselves not only from the world but shun any fellow believers who do not think as they do. It is sad. It is unscriptural. It is hurtful. And it is wicked. Pray for them. Pray for us all.

Here is how to tell if you are or were part of a “cultish” church:

  1. The teaching does not come from the Bible, or when scriptures are used they are lifted way out of context.
  2. You are told how to think; when you think for yourself and speak of it you are rebuked.
  3. Church leaders shame others publicly and gossip about others in casual conversation.
  4. When someone leaves the church the remaining members are publicly or personally counseled to avoid the departing brother/sister at all costs.
  5. The mistakes of leaders are covered up; the same mistakes of “regular members” are exposed.
  6. There is no accountability or safety net in place for the leadership.
  7. If there is an “accountability safety net,” it does not hold abusive leadership accountable, only the “regular members.” The lack of love, care and gentle restoration is generally absent.

There are more, but I’ll stop here. These do not come from formal training or spiritual abuse resources, just my own experience and my conversations with friends who experienced the same. This is my story, but (OH! JESUS!) hopefully it is rare. CORRECTION: This is part of my story. And thank God, such a small part! The REAL story, the story of Christ’s grace, mercy and redeeming love (regardless of my abuse, regardless of my sin), Christ’s victory over everything — THAT is THE STORY!

The bottom line for those with a similar story? God is not manipulative and will not be manipulated. God loves His children and treats them as the most perfect and patient parent would – He does not abuse, belittle, patronize, or shame them publicly. Has your church screwed up? God hasn’t. Have you screwed up? God forgives and forgets when we humbly seek Him. Church is made up of humans. God is not human. I believe He is truly grieved over the abuses His children and would-be children have suffered at the hands of the church or other believers. I do NOT believe that negates His perfect plan for the purpose of the church in this world. I do not believe that excuses us from finding and becoming involved in a local, healthy, God-loving Christian community (e.g. Church) and working out our “stuff” together.

I believe we will find there is a treasure awaiting those who dare to trust again. MAYBE just dare a little. MAYBE try to trust again. If anything here resonates with you, here is a very good Web site to check out. You will find many good resources that to consider for your healing:

http://www.barnabasministry.com/

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Grace, Love, Relationships, The Church, The Journey

 

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Love and Wrath

I’ve been praying for many months for a deeper sense of God’s love. My motivation has been partly to get a glimpse at how He loves others so I can love others better, and partly to “feel better” about myself as I gain a greater understanding of His perfect redeeming love. (How’s that for selfish?)

This morning I was continuing to read in the book of James and in chapter four he writes:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

The last part of this passage really popped out at me and I began to ponder whether the harsh realization of how much God hates our sin, and the accompanying sorrow that signals true repentance, is the beginning of knowing God’s love. The text just before that urges us to draw close to God so God will draw close to us. There is initial and humble action on our part and perhaps that action of coming toward God includes the realization of and sorrow for our shortcomings.

Then I received a link to a new post on one of my favorite blogs which also discussed this subject. (Hmm… coincidence or “a God thing”?) In it, Tim Challies declares, “Were you to ask where in the Bible we see the clearest picture of God’s wrath, I would have to point to Jesus’ final hours, from the Garden of Gethsemane to his death on the cross. After all, what but the need for satisfaction of God’s wrath, could compel the Father to send his Son to such a horrible, painful, death?”  He goes on to point out that there is no sin or excuse for sin that God overlooks. He hates sin, even the littlest one, and every sin demands an accounting.

Have I misunderstood God’s love? In general, does the American Christian treat sin lightly or misinterpret God’s perfect love through our imperfect, changing, emotional, sentimental, untrustworthy love? Challies goes on to paraphrases Leon Morris: “When the Bible speaks of God’s love, it does not refer to a warm, fuzzy sentimentality, but a love that is so jealous for the good of the one who is loved that it blazes out in wrath against all evil. The writers of the New Testament had no concept of a love that did not react in the strongest fashion against all sin…. God is able to be both perfectly loving and wrathful. Unlike us, he is not given to outbursts of emotion or to irrationality. His wrath is as perfectly and completely manifested as his love.”

Only when I understand the desperation of my condition can I understand the love and wrath of God. Until I know my sin and God’s wrath against it, I cannot know love. Until I know love, I cannot know the Savior.

God loves me so much that my sin killed His Son. I am changing the way I pray.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Grace, Love, Prayer, Sin

 

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My Wicked Heart

This is one of my favorite “refresh” passages:

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord
      and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
      with roots that reach deep into the water.
 Such trees are not bothered by the heat
      or worried by long months of drought.
 Their leaves stay green,
      and they never stop producing fruit.”

Did you know that is immediately followed by this?

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
      and desperately wicked.
      Who really knows how bad it is?
 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
      and examine secret motives.
   I give all people their due rewards,
      according to what their actions deserve.”

I posted the following comments a few years ago on Collect Yourself. I think it’s still true:

The more I study Christ, grow in my understanding of what it means to follow Him, look closely at those whose lives I would like to emulate, the more I become aware of my wicked heart.

Not that my heart is growing more wicked, I think it’s always been just about this degree of wicked. I think it is just that I am seeing into its depths more clearly, or perhaps more deeply. I am not really liking what I see. At all.

I know growing a relationship with Jesus is a process. And processes take time. And there are layers. Like onions. And sometimes smelly like onions, too. So just when I think I’ve gotten victory over one thing, here comes another. Or sometimes a deeper evaluation of the same thing. Groan.

I used to think this was God’s fault. And of course it is, but I mean I used to think He was doing this to show me how wicked I am, how unworthy, how depraved a heart I have. And of course “a good Christian girl” feels guilt. All the time. Right? So there I was going from glory-to-glory but feeling actually like going from guilt-to-deeper-guilt. Purification didn’t seem so pure. It seemed ugly. And I was a constant failure.

But now I think that it is simply God gently peeling away the rotten outer layers. Maybe carving off a bruised spot on the apple, chipping away the rust on the pot. So maybe it’s not painless, and maybe it’s not always fun, but I am starting to believe that it is what it is and I don’t need to feel any way about it at all, other than to know this is part of the process and, while on this earth, I can simply submit to the process, and let it be. I can extend grace to myself and not a guilt trip. I can trust in God’s love for me – that He does this to make me a better human being, more fit for His kingdom, more suited to carry out whatever it is He has for me to do here. I can turn off the voice, which is not His, that says I am a total screw-up.

I read this the other day, and I believe it’s true: “I will love God because He first loved me. I will obey God because I love God. But if I cannot accept God’s love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him. Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God’s love will. The ability to accept God’s unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return. Accepting God’s kindness and free love is something the devil does not want us to do. If we hear, in our inner ear, a voice saying we are failures, we are losers, we will never amount to anything, this is the voice of Satan trying to convince the bridge that the groom does not love her. This is not the voice of God. God woos us with kindness, He changes our character with His love.” 1

Accepting God’s love and loving Him in return is the cure for the curse of the ever-present wicked heart.

And who wouldn’t a life lived like one of those lovely trees mentioned above?

1 From Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller
 
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Posted by on February 22, 2011 in The Heart

 

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Keep No Record

This video is going around FaceBook. It is just over 4 minutes but carries a powerful message. Would you take a moment to watch it? It’s a great reminder to anyone who interacts with other human beings in the course of their day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfeXxkbgCVE

Doesn’t this change your perspective? When the guy cuts in front of you on the freeway, then slows down; When the woman in the checkout line behind you is muttering under her breath; When the suit on the commuter train is yelling into his cell phone; When the teller treats you like an inconvenience; When the coworker takes credit for your work; And when your spouse or kids come home a little grumpy.  

Through what lenses do you see them?

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2011 in Relationships

 

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