When You’re Hurt By the Church

When You’re Hurt By the Church

This is a challenging topic to write about because it is so personal, but that’s also what makes it so important. Sometimes the church hurts us, and that pain can directly affect the way we see religion, relationship, and God Himself. Depending on the situation, “the church” could represent a physical place, or it could mean the church as a body of believers.

A little over two years ago, it felt like the church completely sucked the life out of me. I was a new mom, working full-time in ministry, and working on a second church plant with my husband. I’m not going to go into all of the details here, but within six months, it felt like I had been punched in the gut and my heart was in pieces. I don’t think there was any malicious intent behind the hurt—in fact, I think that is very rarely the case—but it didn’t make the pain any less difficult to cope with.

I found myself shutting down, emotionally and spiritually. All of the passion I had for ministry and God’s word completely dried up. I started dreading Sundays and avoiding my Bible. For our family, we realized that we needed to make some difficult decisions to get us out of the situation we were in, but even after those changes were made, healing came slowly.

For me personally, healing looked like starting a blog. I began to write about the things I was struggling with and God was faithful to give me insight as I went through that process. In fact, I began to look forward to that time with Him again because He was consistently helping me change my perspective and sparking new ideas. Last November, after I had been blogging for about five months, I felt like He was leading me to commit to writing one post a week. The idea was a little scary, since I was already struggling to come up with new topics, but I decided to take the leap of faith. I asked a few close friends to help hold me accountable and started making a list of things I wanted to talk about.

Not one week has gone by since I made that decision that God hasn’t given me a topic to write about. In fact, I have hardly been able to keep up! Several times, I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night with an entire blog post in my head.

It felt like I was healing; I was cherishing my time with the Lord, I was excited about church on Sundays again, and I was spending time in scripture daily as I prepared my blog posts. Then last Sunday, God revealed that I was still withholding myself from Him.

We were in the middle of worship that morning, and I felt a gentle conviction about not putting my hands up in the air. I know everyone has different styles of worship, and many people choose to not put their hands in the air, but three years ago I had my hands up every single Sunday, every time I sang in the car, and every time I found myself praising Him. I had discovered a freedom in that action that made me feel so connected to God, and I reveled in it. But this Sunday, I began to look back and realized that I hadn’t once put my hands up in the two years since I’d been hurt.

The thought brought me to tears, and I heard God gently ask me, “Why are you holding back from me? I’ve never hurt you.” And I cried out in my spirit, “God, you’ve never hurt me, but your church did.”

When we are hurt, how often do we end up withholding ourselves from the wrong person? With our spouses, our friends, our families… how often do we hold back from them because we have been hurt before? Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

Who deserves our surrender more than the one who gave up everything so that nothing could separate us from Him? (Romans 8:38) Who deserves our complete love and devotion more than the one who raised us from death to everlasting life? (John 3:16) Who deserves our worship and praise more than the one who rejoices over us with singing? (Zephaniah 3:17)

The church may hurt us, but God doesn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to separate what He has done with what people have done in His name, but don’t let the enemy convince you your pain is from God. If you’ve ever been hurt by something or someone in your life related to the church, I encourage you to ask God to reveal any part of yourself that you are keeping from Him. Let Him show you where you are holding your hurt, so that He can help you release it.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

-Isaiah 41:10

God Sent Grace

God Sent Grace

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus was “The Word”. He was God’s message.

He was everything God wanted to say to the world, in a person.

When people saw the leper, they fled from him. They avoided his touch and his presence. But Jesus not only acknowledged him, He touched him, and then He healed him. When the woman was dragged before Him, guilty of adultery, people called her names and wanted to stone her. But Jesus wiped clean the guilt and said, “Neither do I condemn you.” When people are wrongly accused or punished, they rage against the unfairness and they demand justice. But Jesus called out, “Forgive them, Father, for they know now what they do.”

Jesus touched the untouchable. He cleansed the uncleansable. He forgave the unforgivable. Because that’s what God was trying to tell the world: My grace is sufficient for you.

There are times when we feel unworthy because we feel unclean. It’s as though we are on display and everyone around us can see the mess that’s on the inside, and they don’t approve. But there is only one who sees on the inside, and He speaks to the deepest, darkest things, and He says, “Grace.”

It is grace that empowers and compels us to go and sin no more. It is grace that gives us the ability and desire to replace addiction with an affection for Christ. It is grace that sets us free.

God always knew the cost, and when the time came, He sent His Son—not to condemn or shame—but to tell every person, “You are worth it.”

God sent the Word. God sent Jesus.

God sent Grace.

Misconceptions About Grace

Misconceptions About Grace

Grace in the English language typically means elegance, beauty, or mercy, but in scripture, grace is the foundation of our salvation and redemption. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Grace is the means that allowed us to be reconciled and restored to righteousness in His sight after the fall. God’s grace is His goodness toward us when we were still sinners and had no reason to expect His favor.

Grace is something I write about a lot, because I think it’s one of the most important aspects of Christianity. However, I also think there are a lot of misconceptions about what God’s grace is and what it means. Here are three I see or hear about most often:

GRACE CAN BE EARNED (OR LOST)

God secured our eternal salvation by sending His son to die on a cross, giving us his unmerited favor and mercy. That is what grace looks like. Because we did nothing to earn it, or deserve it, there’s nothing we can do to lose it.

Ephesians 2:9 says that we are saved, “not by works, so that no one can boast.” Works do not earn us salvation or grace, and thank goodness they don’t. We would constantly be bouncing in and out of redemption, as we struggle to live as Christians in a fallen world.

God’s grace defies our logic and challenges our beliefs about worthiness. Thankfully, there’s no correlation or causation between our works and His grace. Our performances do not determine His grace, our successes do not determine His grace, and our failures do not determine His grace. It is not about our works, but Christ’s finished work on the cross.

GRACE MAKES US PERFECT

Grace does not mean that we don’t need to repent, or turn away from sin. We are not looking at grace the right way if we refuse to correct our behavior or learn lessons because we see ourselves as perfect. Grace doesn’t mean we are perfect; it means we are covered.

Romans 3:23-24 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

We all fall short—if we didn’t, grace wouldn’t be needed—but scripture says we are justified by grace. The enemy can attack us in multiple ways: he can get us to dwell in condemnation, where it feels like we are never good enough and can never live up to God’s standards; or, he can make us think that because we are covered by grace, we aren’t accountable for our actions. Either way, we stop producing fruit because we stop focusing on Jesus and His plan for us.

Grace does not make us perfect, but it does give us Jesus’ perfect standing with God, which enables us to come before Him free of guilt. God’s grace is what allows us to get back up when we fall and turn away from the things that make us stumble.

WE CAN PRODUCE GRACE

A term that’s used a lot is “giving grace” – giving yourself grace, or giving others grace – but I don’t think the term is always used correctly. True, supernatural grace isn’t something we give or don’t give. It’s not something we work for, or earn, and it’s not something we can provide.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

Grace and the ministry of reconciliation is from God. It’s not so much about giving grace, but how we respond to, and reflect, the grace we’ve been given.

So maybe to “give yourself grace” is simply to remind yourself that you live under the abundant, unending grace that Jesus died to give you. To “give others grace” is to remind yourself and them that they live under the same thing.

When the Healing Doesn’t Come

When the Healing Doesn’t Come

Most Christians believe that healing happens even today, and many of us have either been healed or have known someone who has been healed. But how many of us also know someone who wasn’t? How many of us have been left confused, disheartened, and heartbroken after praying for healing that never came?

This is a difficult and often painful topic to talk about in the Christian world, one that can lead to division, but it’s also something many of us have faced. It’s one of the things that cause Christians to turn their back on God, or become angry with God, and it’s one of the reasons Christians feel separated from God in their grief – How could a good God let this happen?

When healing doesn’t come, the most prominent question is why? Why are some healed instantly while others struggle for years seeking healing? Why do some live while some die? We say that the blood of Jesus purchased our healing, so were the stripes He bore only enough to heal certain illnesses or certain people?

The default answer to this is “God’s timing” or “God’s will”, but how does someone in pain reconcile the heart of a God who was willing to heal Person A’s cancer, but not Person B’s cancer? Scripture tells us that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). He does not love some of us more than others. We can’t earn our way into healing, the same way we can’t earn our way into salvation or righteousness.

If we were to pray for a friend or family member to be saved, and they ultimately die cursing God, would we assume that it was God’s will for them to not be saved? 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. We can’t automatically associate every unanswered prayer with God’s will, or we are giving people a picture of a God who cares about some more than others. Instead, we have to focus on what we know to be true.

There are things we know from scripture and then there are things we think we know.

Things we know:

  • God’s intention for us in the garden was to live and not die, or suffer (Genesis 2:15-17)
  • Adam and Eve disobeyed God and we began to live under a curse (Genesis 3:17-19)
  • God reversed the curse through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Things we THINK we know:

Our brain makes connections that might not be true. We take scriptural truths and then follow them down a path that’s not biblical.

God knows when we suffer, and He is good and loves us, so He wouldn’t want us to suffer. God can stop our suffering, so we should never expect to suffer.

Scripture refutes this repeatedly. Look at Job, Moses, Hannah, David, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, Daniel, Thomas, etc. Acts 14:22 says, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Christians don’t escape suffering; we have the promise of a loving Father who will “come near to the brokenhearted and save the crushed in Spirit”.

God is a loving God who wants to heal me, but I haven’t been healed. Since God is all-powerful, there must be something wrong with me. Maybe I don’t have enough faith, or I have unconfessed sins.

So what do you say to the husband who just lost his wife or the parents who lost their child after spending days on their knees in prayer? Would it really help to walk up to a mother who recently lost her son and tell her that she could have saved him if she had just had more faith? Is that going to bring her closer to the cross or push her further away? Theology is not going to help someone who is suffering; only the presence of God is going to do that. We can’t pretend to know what God is doing behind the scenes. In the book of Job, his friends all accused him of doing evil, but God called him blameless and a righteous man. It is so hard to not give answers when someone is in pain, but sometimes our poorly worded answers can cause more grief and condemnation, when the truth is simply we don’t know.

Ultimately, it comes back to what we do know to be true. We don’t know God’s thoughts, but we do know His character. We know He is God, and we know He is good. Scripture tells us:

  • God will pull us close in our time of grief. (Psalm 34:18)
  • God is for us and He loves us. There are things we can’t understand and mysteries in the world, but there is no mystery in how much God loves us (Psalm 136:26)
  • God will turn our grief into joy (John 16:20)

If you are struggling with a loss that you can’t understand, or if you have prayed for healing that still hasn’t come – I encourage you to continue seeking God and trusting Him, knowing that He is for you and He loves you. A great book that dives into this topic in depth is “Where is God When it Hurts” by Philip Yancey. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about what God’s word says about grief.

 

 

From a Worrier to a Warrior

From a Worrier to a Warrior

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a worrier. The constant worrying kept me up all night in grade school and gave me anxiety attacks in high school. I worried about school, boys, my grades, my salvation, my family, my friends, my weight… you name it, I probably worried about it.

A few years ago, though, while I was reading in Exodus, God gave me a revelation about worry that literally changed my life. In Exodus 12, the Angel of Death is about to come through Egypt. The Israelites were told to smear blood on the top and both sides of the doorframe, so that the Angel will pass over their homes.

“When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” – Exodus 12:23

In general, reading that verse, it sounds pretty simple. You smear blood on the door and the Angel of Death passes you by. However, when reading the verse, all I could think of was how I would have reacted in that situation. As a mom, there’s no way I would have been able to sleep that night. I would have been up all night, twisting my hands together, wondering if I was about to lose my first-born child to a technicality. Maybe I didn’t get enough blood on the door, or maybe I did the wrong pattern on the doorframe and the Angel was going to come through anyways.

Mid-thought, God revealed to me the sentence that would stop me in my tracks: “The blood still would have covered you.”

There probably were parents who stayed up all night wondering if the blood would work, and there were probably also parents who slept peacefully through the night—but the blood covered them either way. The only difference was how they spent their night. How do you think God would rather us spend our night: anxious and worried or at total peace?

Proberbs 3:24 says, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

God promises He will be by our side (Proverbs 3:26) and that He will never sleep (Psalm 121:3), so that we can put our minds at ease. He says He will watch over our lives and keep us from all harm (Psalm 121:7). He has already made us those promises.

We have the right to lay down our heads in peace if we have the faith to do it. Our faith is what helps us gain access to the things He has already promised us: peace of mind, rest, protection, favor.

I’ve never seen a clearer picture of grace than this: as Christians, whether we access those promises or not, whether we live the life He has planned for us or not, we are still covered by His blood.

We can stay up all night wondering if we are going to miss out on Heaven on a technicality, or we can trust that Jesus’ blood was enough. The blood covers us either way. When we stay up and worry, all it does is keep us from accessing the abundant blessings He has poured over our lives.

After God revealed this sweet truth to me, I chose to fight back against the enemy’s attacks on my peace of mind. I kept Psalm 4:8 on my nightstand, and when I started to feel the anxiety creep in at night, I would repeat it over and over: In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.

We are not called to be worriers; we are called to be warriors—so put on your armor and fight. Fasten your belt of truth, and put on your breastplate of righteousness. Claim the gospel of peace and take up your shield of faith. Firmly take your helmet of salvation and use the Word of God to fight back against the enemy’s lies.

White as Snow

White as Snow

A popular idea in Christianity is that we have been made clean, or given a blank slate, or washed white as snow. There are countless worship songs that mention this, and it’s such a beautiful picture. Our sins were scarlet, our account was marred, but Jesus washed us white as snow.

But what happens when we mess up? When we miss the mark, it feels like we smear black on our slate and we have to start all over again to get clean. Growing up, I thought I needed to be re-baptized, or re-dedicated, or re-saved every single time I did something I shouldn’t have. I wanted to be white as snow again.

I didn’t realize that my clean slate was unstainable.

Our slate is spotless, fresh, and white because Jesus gave us His own slate when He took the punishment for our sin upon Himself. As Christians, when we mess up, it doesn’t go on our slate; it goes to the cross, where it has already been covered. Our sins, past, present, and future, have been accounted for.

My slate was unstainable, because it was never about my work; it was about Christ’s finished work.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

When we said in faith that Jesus is Lord, and believed in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we were justified through His blood, and sanctified through His Spirit. We were washed clean forever.

“He concludes, I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins. Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them. Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of His sacrifice, acting as our priest before God.” – Hebrews 10:17-18, 20 (The Message)

When we hear those words in worship songs—washed white as snow—they are meant to remind us of the punishment Jesus took on our behalf, and the grave He conquered to secure our eternity. We are washed white as snow, not because of our own actions, but because of Jesus. Even if we mess up, or miss the mark, our slate remains clean because Jesus finished His work.

Adopting God’s Vision

Adopting God’s Vision

Several years ago, I had a friend in my life who couldn’t understand why I believed in God. It was the first time I’d been around someone who constantly questioned my faith. When something bad would happen, she would always ask me, “Where’s your God? Couldn’t He have stopped that?” When I would read my Bible, she would begin listing the reasons the scriptures couldn’t be true. When I would pray in front of her, she would ask me if that was really helping the people living in poverty every day. Usually I was able to respond to her, but sometimes I would get frustrated, or even angry. One time, when I was at my breaking point, I turned to give her a harsh response, and God stopped me. “Look at her passion and tenacity. When I change her heart, imagine what she’s going to do for my Kingdom.”

The words reminded me of Paul. When people looked at Paul, they saw a persecutor, but God saw an apostle. God does not see the way that man sees. We focus on the natural instead of the supernatural. We focus on what we can see instead of what we believe about God. We focus on the lack instead of the supply.

Take the five loaves. We look at the bread in front of us and we know it’s not enough to feed the multitude. We look at our circumstance and lose sight of God’s vision.

In 2018, I challenge you to seek God’s vision. In Psalm 1:3, it says this about those that delight in the Lord:

They are like trees, planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. Whatever they do, they prosper.

Let’s break down this verse:

We are like trees. Note that the verse says that we are planted, not grown. We are chosen, prepared, nourished, and secured. We are here intentionally, and we have purpose.

We are planted by streams of water. Not a stream, but multiple streams, which means we are always surrounded by a super-abundant supply: of grace, and promise, and cleansing, and eternal life.

We bring forth fruit in our season. We bring patience in a season of frustration, faith in a season of doubt, hope in a season of disappointment, and joy in a season of sorrow.

And our leaves do not wither. We don’t grow weary. We are strong and refreshed through all of our seasons. We serve through an overflow of the grace God pours into us.

Whatever we do, we shall prosper. How amazing is that promise to us, as those who delight in the Lord? This is the time of year when we are making resolutions, and it’s so important to remember that whether we hit our goal or miss the mark, WHATEVER we do shall prosper when we delight in Him.

This year, let’s return to God’s view: when it seems like everything is against us; when it seems like we just can’t hit our goals; when it seems like we are hitting walls at every turn, remember that our works are prospered. Just because we don’t see our purpose doesn’t mean we don’t have one. Just because we don’t see our fruit doesn’t mean we aren’t producing any. Just because we don’t see the supply doesn’t mean it’s not abundant. We have to adopt God’s vision instead of our own.