September 6, 2012

Does God Still Like Me When I Sin?

We tell people (believers) that when they sin, they lose fellowship with God. We explain that He hates sin and so when we sin, He can’t talk to us until we straighten things out. We say He disapproves of our sin and this disapproval feels like a lack of acceptance…rejection. Wait a minute…how is that any different than works based Salvation? Is that what God did to us when we were dead in our trespasses and sins? Did He say, “Well, we won’t be talking until you figure out the fact that you are dead in sin and want to change. And the only way that I will know you want to change is when you start to do the right things. Good luck until then!” No way! Romans 5:8 says that God passionately loved us and extended this love to us while “we were yet sinners.” When we were in the midst of our deepest, darkest sins, God came after us. While we were still very far away, “[our] Father saw [us] and felt compassion, and ran and embraced [us] and kissed [us]” (Luke 15:20). So how should we use 1 John 1:9? Doesn’t it say we need to ask forgiveness when we sin otherwise we are living in darkness and God can’t fellowship with darkness?

Let me ask you this question…When Jesus Christ (if you want to know Who God is, He speaks in the language of “Son” - Hebrews 1) died on the cross, how many of your sins were covered? If you gave the Sunday School answer, “All of them!”, you are correct. He died for your past sins, your present sins, and your future sins. I mean, let’s be real here…all of your sins were future 2000 years ago. So all of them were covered. He forgave all of your sins. He cried “It is finished!” and the veil was torn. No more separation from God. But we teach people that when they sin, a veil goes back up and it isn’t finished. Ironic. We do what the Hebrews were doing…we explain that people need to basically re-crucify Jesus on the cross and get “new” forgiveness. How blasphemous! "God didn't deposit forgiveness into an account with my name on it so that I can make forgiveness withdrawals when I need it. When I was born again, He emptied the entire forgiveness account on me! My debt was paid in full!" (McVey). We have to realize we are forgiven. I keep saying that because we don’t live that way. 1 John 1:9 translated correctly is not speaking of forgiveness. It is speaking of confession. Confession means that you "acknowledge the foolishness of disobedience to the Father and then praise Him that you are already forgiven and accepted by Him” (McVey). When we sin, we need to confess that we were not living the new identity we have because of Salvation. And what is that identity? Jesus Himself. We weren’t allowing His life to be expressed through ours and we need to agree with God that we walked away and not Him. We walked away from our true identity…we walked away and thought we could find happiness and fulfillment elsewhere. But the entire time, God stayed right with us. He cannot disown or be unhappy with His Son, and since His Son lives in us, He cannot be disapproving or disappointed in us. “The Father poured out all His wrath on His Son. There is no more left for you or me. He won’t condemn you now because condemning the innocent is an abomination to Him, and that’s what He says you are: innocent. He won’t punish you for your sin because to do so would be unjust; someone’s already paid for those sins and it would be unfair to punish you for them again” (Fitzpatrick 70). “Will God ever push us away or keep us at arm’s length? Would He push His Son away? Will God ever fail to hear our prayer? Does He hear His Son’s? Is He disgusted with us and disappointed that He every adopted us? Does Jesus disgust and disappoint Him?” (Fitzpatrick 74).

For years I believed that when I sinned, I had to ask forgiveness from God, otherwise a breach would remain in our relationship because He was not happy with me and wouldn't be happy until I realized my sin and cleansed myself of my sin. Do you see how opposed to grace this belief system is? "If Satan can cause you to feel that God doesn't accept you because of bad behavior, he can keep you [far away from God] for a longer time" (McVey). And this happened to me. I got Galatians 5:16 reversed. I thought I had to clean myself up before I could walk in the Spirit. So, I would stay focused on my sin...doing deep personal analyzation, trying to cleanse myself of my sin by staring it in the face. Only years later did I realize that I was "setting my mind on the flesh, which is death" (Romans 8:6). Freedom from sin does not happen by obsessively thinking and willing myself comes from choosing to believe I am accepted, forgiven, and righteous before God. He loves me, wants me, and pursues me. I can enjoy Him. I can walk in the Spirit and as I do, He will do His work in me. I do nothing. How awesome!

With God, my behavior does not determine my identity. He has already declared my identity is Jesus Christ. I will choose to believe that and as a result, live in victory. Or, I will choose to continue to believe I am just a sinner saved by grace and destined to struggle with sin the rest of my life. The only problem is, "God never intended for the Christian life to be a struggle" and yet we live most of our lives that way (McVey). It's no wonder most of us fizzle out or choose to run from God the moment we graduate from high school. We are exhausted from trying to please a God we feel like has us walking on pins and needles.

So what is the distance we feel? It is the natural reaction to living contrary to who we are supposed to be. We “think that [our] relationship with God is predicated on the fact that [we’re] not really all that bad, and then [we] wonder if [we] were ever really His. [We] don’t see the depth of the sin that Christ bore in [our] place and so [we] can’t comprehend the righteous fury He withstood for [us] nor the riches of the grace [we’ve] been given…Fully embrace your sinfulness for one simple reason: so that you can fully embrace this great exchange” (Fitzpatrick 71).

And that is the key. We have to embrace the fact that we are “incalculably sinful men and women who are loved immeasurably by an infinitely holy God” (Fitzpatrick 44). And this my friends, not the manipulative "lose fellowship with God" argument we so like to use, will propel people deeper and deeper in love with Jesus Christ and consequently cause life-change.

July 30, 2012

Abused and Afraid


Every woman struggles with it. We just mask it in different ways. Some of us hide our fear behind our sense of humors, some of us behind our shyness, others behind our weight (fat or skinny), some behind weird obsessions, others behind our accomplishments and some behind our children and/or friends. We are loud, quiet, fierce, competitive, controlling, pushovers, timid, overbearing, nice, obnoxious, and arrogant due to fear. We are afraid.

Honestly, as women, we have a lot to fear. We are the weaker vessel, which simply means we are designed differently than men. Someone has to lead in relationships and God deemed man to do so. This was not an indictment on women. No ladies, we have an incredible role to play in the lives of men…whether those men be our husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, or friends. We are the “Help-Meet”, a term used for God Himself in the Old Testament. We are the ones who come through and rescue the men in our lives when there is no one else and no where else for them to turn. And like Jesus Christ submitted humbly to God the Father, we must be submissive to the men in our lives (not dangerously or sinfully so). When the man leads as God designed him to and the woman loves and respects her husband, both feel safe and nurtured and live full and peaceful lives. However, being the “weaker vessel” in a male-dominated, sin-infested world is scary as Hell. Women are taken advantage of physically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually every day. We have a lot to fear.

God knew in deeming us as the weaker-vessel that we would be offended and/or just plain scared.

Ladies, some of you have been physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused by men…and some of you by men you trusted. Others of you have husbands and/or fathers who did not provide for your family. Instead, they were lazy, irresponsible little boys who never grew to be men. And as a result, you don’t trust men (and I don’t blame you). You fight and are offended by the term “weaker-vessel” because to you, men are weaker-vessels due to the fact that they can’t control their anger, sexual appetites, manipulation, or laziness. I hurt for you. Please realize that God never intended this to be. He intended for men to care, love, nurture, and provide for you (deep down, that’s what every woman craves). He never meant for you to be both mommy and daddy. He never meant for you to self-medicate your pain and hide your scars. He never meant for you to act and look tough so men didn’t take advantage of you. He never meant for that. But intentions don’t make the pain go away and the enemy convinces us that we have to protect ourselves. That God won’t come through. That He doesn’t care. And so we build false identities fueled by our fear.  

I love Hebrews 11. In verse 6, we are told, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” The chapter continues with highlights from various men and woman who had extraordinary faith. Verse 11 caught me: “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful Who had promised.” If you know anything about Sarah, you know she was not a perfect woman and she did not always consider God faithful. In fact, she was like most of us. She had been taken advantage of several times, which caused her faith in God to waver…a lot. Here’s her story.

In Genesis 12, Abraham and Sarah travel to Egypt due to a famine in their own land. Abraham knows that the Egyptians are going to find Sarah beautiful and may kill him to get her, so in order to save his own life, he tells her to lie and to say that she is his sister. She agrees and is taken in by Pharaoh. Verse 16 makes me mad, “And for her sake he (Pharaoh) dealt well with Abraham; and he (Abraham) had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” What the?! Abraham not only saved his own life at the expense of his wife’s sexuality, but he also made out with material possessions…all while she is being groomed and prepared to be taken into Pharaoh. Miraculously God intervenes on Sarah’s behalf before Pharaoh can touch her. But can you imagine the shame, fear, insecurity, anger, lack of trust, hurt and vulnerability she must have felt when reunited with her husband? He didn’t fight for her. He gave her away…to protect himself. She was neglected.

Later, in Genesis 16, Sarah is growing impatient with God’s promise for a son. Maybe it’s because she had been lied to by a man before. Or maybe her false identity of beauty wasn’t holding up for her in a culture where male heirs were everything. All I know is she told Abraham to sleep with her servant and he agrees. Once again, no fight on his part. I wonder if Sarah wasn’t being manipulative…you know the games we play as women? Was she hoping Abraham’s faith in God was greater than hers and that he would step up and lead this time? Was she hoping that he would honor her more than his own well-being and reputation and fight for her? I’m sure she probably was. Because after Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, Sarah takes out her insecurity and pain on Hagar. Sarah was rejected.

In Genesis 18, Sarah overhears a conversation between God and Abraham about the promised son. She laughs. Her fear is now masked by her sense of humor. She was disillusioned. But God knew. God understood. And a few chapters later (21), Sarah gives birth to Isaac.

If I left the story there, you would think God wouldn’t have anything nice to say about either Sarah or Abraham. I mean, talk about dysfunction. And yet, all of this dysfunction ultimately gives birth to a miracle of faith. Abraham would offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and Sarah would be honored as a woman who was submissive to her husband and did not give way to fear.

“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham…So you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:5-6).

Wow. What a commendation Sarah receives from God. And what an encouragement to us as men and women. Abraham and Sarah weren’t even close to perfect. In fact, most of the first part of Genesis is spent highlighting their failures. And yet, we know that the rest of their story must have been one of profound faith, otherwise God, Who does not lie, would not have hallmarked both Abraham and Sarah in the “Hall of Faith”. Not because they were saints, but because God is gracious and redeems our sin and our pain. He gives fresh starts. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3).

And yet I think God chooses to share the weaknesses of His chosen vessels (men and women) with us so that we do not get discouraged and feel like we can’t measure up. God knows. He sees (Exodus 2:25 ESV). We are going to fail. We are going to get scared and live behind false identities. And yet He offers us a healing solution: Hope in Him. Trust in the Unseen. Believe with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength that this sinful world was never His intention. Trust that in spite of this perverse world, He offers security, protection, healing, renewal, fresh starts, more grace. But we are left with a choice. Will we submit to Him? Will we choose to lay aside our false identities (men and women alike) and to be nakedly vulnerable before the only One Who can and will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5:10)? Will we allow His kindness to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4)? The choice is up to us. Beth Moore says, “If your faith is based on what God is doing, you are in for the scariest ride of your life.” But, if your faith is based on Who God is, you will have an secure Anchor in a life that violently tosses and turns us (Hebrews 6:19). It is scary. But I promise, it is worth it.

April 21, 2012

Double Standard

I have been asked many times to share my story...and I will...just not yet. While I believe my open heart surgery is done, God is still sewing me up and I am in spiritual rehab. Not that I am waiting "to arrive" by any means...I just want to make sure my surgery cuts are scars so that they don't open back up and bleed. Make sense? Sorry if you get easily quesy. My blogs are not for the faint of heart (pun intended).

Speaking of healing...what I will say about my story is this quick blurb...after years of thinking I was the "it girl" of Christianity (I thought I had it all together and was on top of my game), God broke me into a million pieces. Depression, suicide, anxiety attacks, fear...those are just some of the emotions I battled with for more than a year. It was a dark time to say the least. What caused all of this? I asked myself that question over and over for months. Finally, I realized something...I was so immersed in legalism...trying to do everything right and to prove I was good enough...that I had grown angry with myself and the fact that I knew I couldn't measure up and absolutely ignorant of God's grace...I didn't understand the Gospel.

Are you shocked? I mean, of course I knew the Gospel, right? Well, in a way. I understood the Gospel in relation to Salvation...but not in relation to my everyday life. How do I know that? Because it wasn't until someone showed me that my past, present, and future where Jesus Christ' other words, when God looks at me, He sees perfection...He sees Jesus. When did someone point that out to me? When I was in my darkest time. When I was in the midst of an emotional breakdown that embarrasses me to even think about.

What about you? Do you understand the Gospel as it relates to everyday life?

Let me give you two scenarios...

1. Let's say you are a part of your church's counselling team. A woman approaches you after the service and explains that she does not know Jesus as her Savior and yet is in the middle of an adulterous relationship. She doesn't know what to do, but she knows she cannot continue living like she is. What do you tell her? I would assume you would wholeheartedly go into the Gospel...right? That is of upmost importance in this situation. After she has a personal relationship with Jesus, the adultery will take care of itself.

2. But what about this...what if that same woman approached you after the service but was saved. What would you do? Would you immediately begin to focus on her sin and her choices? Would you make her feel condemned, guilty, alone? You may not think so, but if you don't point her immediately to the Gospel, even though she is already saved, you will inevitably be preaching a double standard.

My heart is burdened because so many of my friends have been pushed away from Jesus because they were not given the Gospel in their darkest times, they were given a lecture. I know that some of you may be arguing with me in your heads, but have you ever had a converstaion with someone "living in sin"? He/she knows. He/she is completely aware as to what they have done. That is why so many Christians who have walked away from God feel aboslutely alienated from other believers.

I am not by any means saying you shouldn't confront sin. You absolutely should. However, are we confronting sin with the Gospel? Are we reminding people that no matter what decisions or choices they have made, that Jesus has already forgiven them and loves them and wants desperately to have a relationship with them? Are we telling them that? Or are we burdening them further with our lectures and our condemning body language? Is our fear of sin causing us to push people away from Jesus or toward Jesus? An understanding of His grace could cause people to take advantage of it...but a complete, full grasping of His grace keeps people far away from sin. How do I know? Read John 8. All Jesus had to tell the woman caught in adultery was to "Go, and sin no more." And I believe that's what happened. 

This is why now when I have a conversation with a friend who has walked away from Jesus (and I have a lot of them...good people who were treated poorly by Christians because those Christians were scared of their sin), I make sure they understand I love them. I don't agree with their choices, but I know that Jesus has already forgiven them and wants them. If I am to be like Jesus, then I need to pursue them and remind them that they aren't lost sheep, they are part of the family of God. And like Jesus, I will pursue that one out of the ninety-nine.

April 17, 2012

Weekend Widow

Similar to Jasmine’s introduction to a flying carpet in the Disney movie Aladdin, ministry can be “a whole new world” for those who have not grown up in it. On the other hand, I grew up in the ministry and being married to a pastor has still introduced me to a “new fantastic point of view”. And that’s just it…it is fantastic…but sometimes, it can also be exhausting, lonely, and absolutely not “crystal clear”. So how do we as ministry wives keep perspective? How do we figure out what our roles are so we truly are weekend widows and not weekend martyrs?

Keeping Perspective
First of all, you have to consistently remind yourself that God sovereignly called your husband and you to the ministry. How I am sure that you have also been called to the ministry? You are married to a man in the ministry. Done.

When Bryant and I first got married, I was so excited to be a Pastor’s Wife…well, most days. Honestly, I was 25, we had just gotten married, and our church was exploding. At that point in my life, I had also just discovered some deep emotional baggage I had been carrying for years…so I was in counseling. I was feeling a lot of pressure. Not from my husband…and I can honestly say that. From myself. Even though I was struggling internally, I felt like I had to hold it together and be the “Pastor’s Wife”. I had grown up in ministry…I thought I knew what I was supposed to do to be successful. I figured I needed to be pouring personally and deeply into every woman in the church (which at that point was somewhat more possible…albeit unhealthy). So, I made sure they all had my cell phone number. As you can imagine, I was constantly texting and/or answering phone calls. I was leading ladies Bible Study and was hearing stories that I couldn’t believe were real. I carried burdens I didn’t know what to do with. And, I was teaching 10th and 11th grade English full time. I was burning out. I didn’t realize it though. Somehow, my adrenaline kicked in and I felt that since I had a “following”, I was a successful “Pastor’s Wife”. However, internally I was crumbling and I am sure it will come as no surprise that my marriage was less than stellar.

That October, Bryant and I met with an incredible couple for a few days in a cabin in Georgia. I was in need of some serious spiritual resuscitation. I really wasn’t sure which end was up. It was there that God did some open heart surgery on me. He revealed that for years I had been searching for my identity in “the ministry”. The desire for a “following” had started in high school. See, I guess as a teenager I discovered that if you did the right things, people would see you as a role model and would praise and follow you…which would further confirm you were doing the right things. So, doing became my way to survive…and being praised was my way to thrive. All the while, I was deteriorating inside. I figured God loved me because I did stuff for Him. When I started struggling emotionally, I couldn’t do a whole lot for God…further breaking me down. It was while I was in Georgia that I began to wrap my mind around just being. Being who God called me to be and allowing Him to live His life through me. I realized I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, let alone those who attended our church. I just needed to serve, live, and love the way Jesus did…with nothing to prove (or cover up).

To be honest, my life didn’t change over night. Understanding where my identity should be was my first step. God showed me my next step when I lost my teaching job a few months later. Now, my life was wide open. I was freed up to serve Him at the church 24/7. That’s awesome…isn’t it? You would have thought so. Except now, I was feeling less than stellar. I was no longer a career woman and I guess up until that point, I had not noticed how I put a lot of my identity in my career as well. So now, I am feeling lost and guilty. Lost because I am not sure what I am going to do with my free time and guilty because I was not as thrilled about being in full time ministry as I thought I should be. All the while, my husband’s ministry is growing and flourishing…and I feel like I am sitting on the sidelines. So, for a couple of months, I had to get honest with the Lord again. I had to open-handedly re-submit my life to Him and realize that I was not less of a woman because I did not have a full-time, respectable job. I was a woman who He was reshaping into a person He could use freely to do whatever He would like to do. I would spend time in prayer…wrestling through my feelings of boredom, frustration, and of just straight-up feeling left out. I asked God to do what He needed to do in my heart to make me fit for His ministry…not mine. And He started to work.

I had conversations with my husband (still do honestly) about what my “thumbprints” are…in other words, how God has gifted me. I also started looking for the needs at church. I began filling roles, learning what I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. Every once in a while, though, I make sure to fill a role that maybe wouldn’t be my first choice…just to serve and to work on my attitude J.

Determining Our Roles
Centerpoint Church. That’s his calling. However, in order for him to be successful at this, I need to be successful in my calling, caring for Bryant’s needs. I know how he ticks. I know that lose ends at home drive him nuts. I know that he loves to be organized. I know that he likes philosophical discussions. I know that he thrives when I am serving side-by-side with him. So, here’s what I do…

1. I make sure our home is a safe place for him. I keep it clean and organized. I try to greet him when he comes home and just love on and serve him. (Honestly, I am working on the “selfless part” of serving…just keeping it real).

2. I volunteer in the office at church 2-3 days a week. I take care of some of the organizational stuff that otherwise gets overlooked. I also clean closets and do whatever else I can to make sure he feels comfortable and productive at the office.

3. When he has a speaking engagement somewhere, I go. When I can’t hear his talk cause I am in the nursery on Sundays, I listen to the podcast. I make sure he doesn’t feel alone when he is in one of the most lonely, vulnerable places on earth: the stage.

4. I try to read some of his favorite books so we can talk about them and I can challenge him (or more frequently, vice-versa).

I know what some of you are thinking…does my life revolve around him? In a way, yeah, it does. But that’s Biblical. God called Eve Adam’s “Help Meet”. You know what that means? God gave Eve a title that was usually only used for Himself. God was referred to as Israel’s “Help Meet” specifically in those times when there was no way out but through God Himself. Whoa. That’s humbling. I am Bryant’s “Way Out” his “Escape” when he doesn’t see any other way. That doesn’t mean I am a doormat. No, this is an awesome title. I get to do for him what no one else can do. I get to be his Engedi, or his place of rejuvenation. I empower him, along with the Holy Spirit obviously, to do what God has called him to do…and no one else can do that job. Only his Help Meet. Only me. So, that’s my role.

Honestly, all of my other roles are secondary and change as my life changes. I like to mentor and disciple ladies, so I am always looking for one or two to meet with regularly. I love to organize and run events, so I work closely with the Ladies Brunches we do at the church. I enjoy teaching Bible Studies, so when life allows, I teach one. I love working with teens and programming, so I volunteer at times in Velocity. And, when I know I need to do something out of my comfort zone, I do a rotation in Kid Zone (our nursery).

I think the key is (and honestly, I am still learning this) to ask myself this question: “Am I serving (and/or concerned about where I am serving) because I am trying to feel better about myself and prove myself?” OR, and more importantly, “Am I being a willing servant to fill the roles that God calls me to fill at any given time?” The answers to those two questions will reveal a lot about where your heart and your identity is in the ministry. It’s humbling and convicting…but, it will keep you from being a weekend martyr.