Thursday, August 9, 2012

What I Learned While Growing Up in the Church

I do not write this to blame or shame the church. I write it because for better or worse, whether out of good intentions or not, this is what I learned. This is my story.

I grew up in church my entire life. My first memories of church are when my parents started looking for a new one; I was 4 years old or so. The church they chose is one that I went to from the age of 5 to roughly 18.

Most of what I learned would be vehemently denied by those who taught it to me. It is true that not all of this was taught to me by word, but it was taught or affirmed in deed every time I was in the church. I am aware that other factors besides the church influenced me as well, my parents, ATI, the books I read. The church was still one of my main influences and even though they didn’t teach some of these things outright, they also didn’t discredit them. Sometimes what you learn has as much to do with what isn't said as with what is.
I learned:
  1. That God speaks 3 ways: the Bible, spiritual authorities (pastor, Sunday school teacher, guest speaker), and your parents.
  2. That the Holy Spirit is real and important but if anyone is talking about him they’re probably letting their emotions run their life.
  3. That, given the chance, every guy would choose to have sex with any girl available.
  4. That speaking to young men is flirting.
  5. That God is good and he doesn’t mind making you miserable for your good.
  6. That truly spiritual people are constantly repentant, depressed, and consumed by their shortcomings, sins, and failures.
  7. That if you aren’t growing spiritually then it’s because you missed a day of Bible reading and prayer.
  8. That growing spiritually is somehow linked to being thought well of by church authority and being very busy at the church.
  9. That young people never have worries since they have no responsibilities and therefore have much energy and lots of time for God.
  10. That young people should be given more responsibility and become adults as quickly as possible.
  11. That young people do not need to be listened to or respected because they are young.
  12. That young people cannot be trusted with responsibility . . . Unless the church leadership feels differently in the moment. In which case, let the young people do it all. They have time.
  13. That I am a sinner and will be until I get to heaven.
  14. Lots and lots of verses that I can easily recall at almost any time.
  15. To respect my elders. Unfortunately to the extent that anything an older person said was right, simply because they were older.
  16. That God wanted to help me not to sin but he couldn’t because I was rebelliously holding on to my sin, even if I wasn't aware of it and didn't know how to stop.
  17. That I should try with everything in me not to sin but that I would always sin anyways.
  18. That God was very forgiving but this was no excuse to sin.
  19. That if I thought God might be speaking to me something that was kind, then that was my flesh trying to imitate God. But if I was convicted that was always God.
  20. That being a Christian is extremely hard.
  21. That growing up, getting married, and having kids is extremely hard and depressing.
  22. That if you stopped coming to church or started going to a different church you were backsliding.
  23. That when “backsliding” people left the church they were quickly forgotten.
  24. That anyone who did not cover their faults well enough would be a more spiritual person's ‘project’.
  25. That some faults were more spiritual than others. If you were always concerned that you didn't pray enough then that was a fault but also a kind of badge of spirituality. But if you had an anger problem that was not spiritual.
  26. That accountability partners were the answer to not praying and reading your Bible regularly. Also that accountability partners never work because the last thing you need when you’ve screwed up again is another person echoing the voice in your head telling you that you should really try harder.
  27. That if you can’t think of a sin to confess at any given moment, you should confess your pride.
  28. That missions and other countries are very important.
  29. That the Holy Spirit does stuff in the mission field that he won’t in church or at home or probably in my country at all.
  30. That sex is bad, evil and horribly ungodly. Except if you’re married. then it’s embarrassing, inappropriate to ever mention and just another hard part of marriage.
  31. That women don't hardly have a sex drive unless they're dating. Then it is very hard to keep it under control until you get married. Once you're married though, you'll have to work at actually wanting sex with your husband.
  32. That Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins so that I could get to heaven and escape hell.
  33. That having a devotional, including but not limited to prayer and Bible reading, every single morning was the key to a relationship with God. Also that everyone, except possibly a few really spiritual pastors, failed in this key element by missing a day every now and again or by having it in the evenings.
  34. That prayer rarely accomplishes anything except misguided hope.
  35. That children are sinful little brats that must be tamed.
  36. That evangelism is necessary even though neither those evangelizing nor those being evangelized actual like it.
  37. That people very rarely ever get saved.
  38. That, as a young person, if you smile nicely, speak respectfully to adults and don’t get into any obvious trouble then everyone (except for your parents) will be astounded at how mature you are, and have immense respect for you as a person and a Christian, while never finding out who you are or what you actually think.
I could nearly write an article about how each of these have affected my life. I have had to unlearn most of these beliefs and it has been hard. There are a few here that I am grateful for. I still respect my elders, although I am aware now that age does not guarantee wisdom. I am grateful for the amount of the Bible that is always readily available to me through constant exposure; in spite of the fact that I have had to unlearn most of the interpretations they taught me.

I am especially grateful for the emphasis my church placed on missions. I still plan to live in other countries largely because of the exposure they gave me. I am most grateful that they taught me that Jesus came to save me. In my case, having to experience my beliefs about Jesus change drastically from what they taught me was absolutely worth being introduced to him so early.
This is my story.

I share it partially for Pastors, teachers and church leaders. I am grateful for your work. I believe that most of you want to teach and promote Jesus and are willing to learn even from me. What is the legacy of your church? If it's been around for a few years then you can ask people to find out. You probably have a statement of belief written up, but what are you actually teaching? Are you experiencing what Jesus said, "My yoke is easy, my burden is light?" Because I very much want you to live in that experience, both for my sake and yours.

I mostly share it so that possibly, if you believe the same things that I did, then you can gain the courage to reevaluate what you believe and what those beliefs are actually producing in your life. If your beliefs about God and Jesus do not produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control in you then I challenge you that what you believe is not true.

Do you identify with any of these? What was/is the fruit of them in your life?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Love is an Artist

I have always been torn between my love for beauty and my sometimes severely practical mind. I long for beauty but I often decide that it's too frivilous and a waste of my time. I decide that I'm just being vain or falling for advertising that everything around me look just so. In my legitimate concern about my motives I had unwittingly limited God to my severe practicality. I don't think He likes being limited.

A few days ago, I asked God what He wanted to talk about and He said He wanted to talk about His love. (He never gets tired of this topic apparently.) So I asked, "What about Your love?" And He answered, "Beauty. I want to tell you about My love and beatuy." This is my best stab at putting into words everything He told me.

Beauty is the physical manifestation of My love. Beauty is not a reason to love as the world would say, “I love you because you are beautiful.” but is the fruit of love. You are beautiful because I love you. My love literally has created and continues to create beauty in you.

Creation is the overflow of love. My creation is so vast and detailed and tiny and specific and ordered and right and colorful and intense and useful because it is a prophetic image of My love. My love is all of these things.

You need to know about the connection between beauty and love because beauty is proof that love can’t be contained. Even after love has done all the useful, necessary, practical acts of selfless giving it keeps going and pouring just because. Your needs alone are not enough to keep My love occupied. As though it could be used up or worn out on your needs. My love creates and flows far beyond your needs. 

My love is compelled to create more because I have so much creativity, resources, and energy left over after I have abundantly filled all your needs. It pours out into extravagance and color and spontaneous life for no other reason than “just because.” Like a wall of water isn’t stopped or overcome by anything, My love keeps pouring. It fills up the tiniest crevice as well as whole valleys and is not slowed down. Love is rich and carefree with its riches.

You need to know this because this love is in you too. It is in you to flow to others. You need to know that the love inside of you isn’t afraid of using up its materials, resources, or energy. It isn’t afraid of making mistakes. How could it be? It’s love!

It knows that what one person wouldn’t notice or like will be just the thing for another person. It doesn’t judge its own creation. It doesn’t worry whether its creation will be accepted or how much or whether it will be enjoyed. Love is free to give and create and try and stop one thing and start another and go back again. Everything love creates is just right. If love did judge its creations the creation would always be judged perfect on the one merit that it was created by love.

You need to know this because I want you to accept the extravagant beauty of My love.

Be free. I am showing you how to be free. Quit limiting My love to necessary needs. Quit treating Me like a miser. Love doesn’t barely cover your faults, or barely make you holy. Love doesn’t barely keep you alive or barely give you some healing or barely give you enough joy in harsh circumstances or barely have enough time for you or barely and begrudgingly care for you.

I’ve offered you a castle and all of My wealth and you’ve been sitting on the doorstep eating leftovers from the kitchen. Quit thanking Me for My ‘rich’ provision of that corner you‘re sitting in. Quit trying and pretending to content yourself with the cold. Instead of trying to be grateful that you aren’t quite dead, step inside and tell someone to go start a fire. I want you to own your property and authority.

Jesus, give me the tour of my property and teach me to live extravagantly, taking my worth, my wealth, and my authority for granted.

Jesus' Voice Sounds Like This

A few days ago I was listening to a speaker online discuss the ways that God speaks. When he started to talk about how God speaks to us through the Bible, particularly mentioning that it isn’t always about warm fuzzies and that God uses the Bible to convict us too. He suggested that when God convicts us it makes us uncomfortable, makes us squirm, and puts us in the ‘hot seat’ so to speak.

I believe that God does convict through the Bible but as I was listening to him, panic and dread quickly built up in me. I turned off the sermon and asked Jesus what was going on and why was I reacting so strongly to something I mostly agreed with.

In listening to this teacher speak, I felt that old fear that maybe God did require something of me and if he found me out it was going to be very uncomfortable and awkward and I would be embarrassed. Then I felt a slightly newer fear that maybe I was going to be persuaded by a nice sounding man who has a lot more training and experience than I do to return to those dreadful lies. Then I was afraid that I’d never be free of fear while listening to sermons!

I know that fear comes from the Enemy and is in direct opposition to the truth and love of Jesus so I asked him how was the Enemy giving me this fear?

Very quickly it came to me. “He’s suggested that you don’t know my voice. And you agreed with him.”

Now that is how God convicts. Just the facts. Firm but not the slightest bit condemning. I’m thinking, “Okay . . . if that’s a lie . . . then . . . the truth is that I know your voice. I’m gonna choose to believe you but how can that be true?! I feel like I’ve been fooled so often.”

I guess I got him going a topic he likes because he suddenly became loquacious. I wanted to share this because, well, it’s genius and because God is so much better than we’ve imagined.

“My voice never condemns, accuses, or shames you. My voice never communicates disappointment with you. My voice to you gives you peace, my direction to you is clear. When I ask you to repent it is an invitation to freedom and a request to accept more of my love.

“My voice does not give you confusion. My voice does not say what you are not ready to hear. My voice marks a clear path to freedom. My voice is enjoyable to you since you love my truth.

“My voice rolls with authority, affirms who you are, speaks to you with respect. My voice, even my correction, gives you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. My voice brings light and understanding. My voice does not cause you fear. My voice relaxes or excites you but I do not bring you tension or worry.

“My voice speaks of my goodness. My voice will not manipulate you or suggest that you are failing or a failure. My voice will speak better of you than you speak of yourself. My voice is gentle and kind because kindness leads you to repentance and gentleness makes you great. My voice is everything you desire.”

A Lie or the Truth?

Someone shared this with me recently and it has changed my relationship with God for the better so I thought I’d do my best to share it accurately here.

We all know about the fruit of Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. There are fruits, however that are not of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 3, the story of when woman and man first agreed with the Deceiver, you can find the fruit of their agreement in their actions. They were ashamed, they were afraid, they hid from God, and they blamed anyone available.

None of those four things, shame, fear, blame or hiding, come from knowing and trusting the Truth. In fact, these things are directly opposed to God’s plans for us. So, when we experience any of these things working in us we know that we have believed a lie and that the Truth as well as release from these things is available to us.

This was especially important to me because I have felt for a while that afraid and hiding presence of God, ashamed of myself in front of him. I knew that this was related to all the lies I had been taught growing up in the name of God. I was taught that he was disappointed and grieved by me and that if I came into his presence he would condemn me.

I knew that these were lies, but I didn’t know how to separate them from God in my mind. I knew that God wasn’t like that but I didn’t know how to stop reacting to him as though he was exactly like that. I was afraid of hearing his voice because I had heard so many lies from what I thought was his voice in the past.

I blamed him for all this too. How could I trust him now when I thought I was trusting him then? I accused him of not protecting me and I couldn’t see any way around these thoughts since they were based on the truth of my experience.

I was asked whether these questions, thoughts, and blame directed at God were producing the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of deception in me. Well, no question there, they were making me miserable. But I didn’t understand! They weren’t lies, they were relevant questions based on my own life!

Then God gave me a picture/story/idea. You know how in many stories there is an unlikely hero who is more or less guided by a wise, slightly mysterious figure. Think Bilbo and Gandalf or Frodo and Gandalf or Harry Potter and Dumbledore. The hero trusts his guide until some point in the story when the guide is suddenly absent in his time of need.

Then the questions come; sometimes from the hero’s own thoughts sometimes from someone else. I don’t have the books to reference but I seem to remember that Aberforth (Dumbledore’s brother) asks Harry exactly how much he knew about Professor Dumbledore and implies that he might not be entirely trustworthy. Or with Gandalf I mostly remember how he was accused by Wormtongue and Denethor.

The point is that as the reader of the story you know the hero shouldn’t be doubting the guide. You’re reading it thinking, “Don’t fall for that! I know it’s basically reasonable but you really can trust him just like you thought you could!” I assume if you were the hero of the story then it isn’t quite so obvious.

So God spoke to me in this way telling me that my questions were real and valid. They were based on my real experiences. But the Accuser doesn’t only accuse humans, he accuses God as well and these questions, real though they were, came from the Enemy not me.

This made all the difference to me. If they came from me then I couldn’t go on with God until they were satisfactorily answered. But if they came from the Enemy then why would I even give him the satisfaction of having me question God with them? Why would I do even a reasonable thing from his suggestion? I trust God because I know him, not because the Enemy can’t come up with a good sounding reason not to.

Suddenly, I let go of the questions and accusations that I was using as a barrier between God and I. I admit I am still curious, since God said they were valid questions, if he will choose to answer them one day. Ironically, since I was using them as a barrier between us, I don’t think I was actually willing or capable of actually hearing the answers.

I am not at all saying that it is wrong to question God. He can absolutely handle your questions and will often answer them. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be honest with God, he will definitely not be offended. I’m not even saying it’s wrong to rail at God for a while. What I am saying is that if your thoughts toward or about God are making you miserable and creating a barrier between you, you don’t have to let them.

If your thoughts are causing you shame, fear, blame or the desire to hide from God then realize they are lies and you don’t have to agree with them or put up with them no matter how reasonable or logical they sound.

There is also a difference between the facts of a matter and the Truth. The facts of the matter are that virgins don’t ever get pregnant. But the Truth is, one did once. The facts for me were that I was abused in God’s name and didn‘t know how he could be trustworthy. But the truth is that I do trust him and he is trustworthy.

I am not sure that I explained this well since I was trying to keep it reasonably short. If it brings up any questions please ask me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lies Meet the Truth Part 2, What the Truth Did

The Truth is not a collection of ideas. It is far too big to simply pass through my mind or to be tainted by lies. I’ve been trying to make it in the image of the lies I’ve known. But a lie isn’t the opposite of Truth any more than a cat is the opposite of a dog. They are different breeds entirely.

Just as I’ve tried to shove the lies out; I’ve tried to drag the truth in. It doesn’t work. It’s like trying to push water aside; it will make you move, but you’ll never move it.

No, the Truth is not a collection of beliefs or the opposite of lies. He is a person; He is love embodied.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wake in a clean bed, in a cool room. Calm, but a bit confused. Where am I? Wasn’t I in my filthy house overrun by disgusting lies? Wasn’t I cowering in a corner helpless, wounded, afraid and angry? Where am I?

I slowly realize. Reality begins to separate from dream. Because it was a dream. I mean, it wasn’t all a dream. No, I really lived through it, I see the scars on myself as proof. The lies were real and so was the pain. But so was the Hero. He did come for me, and He took me away immediately. I was safe the moment He was there. The lies never touched me after He arrived.

I had been delirious. I couldn’t tell the difference between today, yesterday, and tomorrow. I didn’t know that the pain I was feeling was no longer from abuse, but from painful wounds being healed. I knew that He had come but I didn’t remember Him taking me away. I knew that He promised to save me, promised I would always be safe, but in my feverish tossing as He cared for me, I didn’t know that He was still here.

But He was. He is.

I am still weak. Still content to lay in bed and try to get used to these new surroundings. I’m still trying to think through what has happened to me. A lot has happened. But I’m awake. I know the difference between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I’m sane again. The past is gone, and so are the continual nightmares of it. Tonight, when I go to bed, there is no guarantee that I won’t have bad dreams. But dreams will stay dreams, and no longer masquerade as reality.

I am scarcely involved in, much less responsible for my own healing. Unless you count accepting rest and care. Unless you count accepting Him. I’ll lie here, with nothing to do but watch the Healer as He cares for me. Nothing to do but consider the fact that He must, actually, love me.

Lies Meet the Truth Part 1, How the Lies Came

When I was young and naïve they came to me, these lies. Only one at first. It promised to help, to fill the emptiness, calm the fears, and bring order in my chaos. It never mentioned any price it only wanted to be a friend to me. So I accepted.

As soon as I let it in it made itself at home and I found we weren’t just friends, we were friends with benefits, or else. Somehow, I never considered tossing it out. Once you give yourself to something it’s hard to throw it out and far from alleviating my fears it magnified them. No, I didn’t try to get rid of it, I protected it. But this lie wasn’t being helpful as it promised at all. It was abusing me and now I was more desperate than ever.

So more came knocking on my door. Like salesmen with the latest model. “We’ve heard your screams and we have the answer to your misery.” They would help, they didn’t require anything in return. They only wanted to be friends. So in desperation I let one in after the other. Until I was less than a slave in my own heart.

Each one made themselves at home. They formed relationships with one another. Some hated each other and fought all the time, I was always collateral damage. Others worked together to make my misery worse.

And they all, separately, required their benefits. Intimacy, forced, whenever they wanted, however they liked. I still hoped naively that each new one would be the hero to deliver me from the last ones. But it never worked like that.

Each one fed on the ones before it, more of a monster, more abusive, more controlling, and always requiring more of me.

Then there came a time when I quit looking for a hero. I quit answering the door. I was too busy cowering exhausted and naked in my corner hoping none of them would notice me. But it didn’t help. They were only too happy to answer it for me and invite their relatives in.

But all this was only in my head. So I learned two defenses. Try not to think, because my head was full of only lies that I no longer wanted any part of, or plot revolt and revenge. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the lies themselves taught me these defenses. Little help have they ever been to me.

But a Hero has come. I don’t really know what He is up to or how He got in. I wonder sometimes, why He doesn’t throw them all out immediately. I think maybe they are in too deep for a quick fix. He won’t yank them away, He will care for me until I throw them out myself. Sometimes I hate Him for this.

I haven’t tasted much of His Peace, but sometimes I smell it, like fresh baked bread. To be hungry and smell food without tasting it. Well, I hate Him for this too sometimes.

I know that some of them have gone. I know it’s because of Him. I think I might have had something to do with it as well, but I don’t know what. Sometimes I look for Him and can’t seem to find Him. As though He left me to them again for a while.

I get the idea that I am supposed to have power over them myself, but I don’t understand that either. Sometimes it seems like I have, sometimes not. So I keep plotting my escape, often in despair, or I try not to think.

I know that the Truth is laying around here somewhere but why does it seem so laid back? Why does it seem that I have to prod it into action but lies are animated on their own? Isn’t Truth supposed to have a life of its own?

I want easy answers. I want quick relief.

Even here I see the influence of the lies. They seep out of everything I say and do. Nothing is clear of them. This is what I hate the most. This is why I try not to think. Because every little idea is marred by them. I recognize their mark but I don’t know how to remove it.

I determine to meditate on the truth, I determine to ignore the lies at least for a moment without the escape of not thinking. And I find even the Truth is not unstained once it has passed through my mind. When will I be free?

Friday, January 13, 2012

One of my earliest memories is of looking out across our back yard. I would guess that it was between one and two acres but there was also a pasture behind it, so it seemed to go on much bigger. In the spring the whole yard, as well as the pasture, was covered in small white sweet smelling flowers.

I remember looking across the huge expanse (I couldn’t have been more than four, an acre alone was a huge expanse) and it taking my breath. It was like a sweet royal carpet of gently waving white. It was magical to me.

“Everyone on board was filled with joy and excitement, but not an excitement that made one talk. . .Whiteness, shot with faintest color of gold spread round them on every side. . .There seemed no end to the lilies. Day after day from all those miles and leagues of flowers there rose a smell which Lucy found it very hard to describe; sweet--yes, but not at all sleepy or overpowering, a fresh, wild, lonely smell that seemed to get into your brain and make you feel that you could go up mountains at a run or wrestle with an Elephant. She and Caspian said to one another, ‘I feel that I can’t stand much more of this, yet I don’t want it to stop.’” -C. S. Lewis The Voyage of the Dawn Treader