Monday, March 20

Tale as Old as Time

On Saturday evening, despite the warnings against it, I took Claire to see Beauty and The Beast. I've already read several posts from friends that the uproar and controversy was a bit of an exaggeration, and I'll agree. Still, my sarcasm can't help but scream here,  

"Really? It's possible that believers blew a warning out of proportion? How strange! I've never known that to have happened before!"

Actually, I did walk in with a little anxiety. I wondered how obvious the scenes would be. I was curious about what Claire would actually notice. The moments were briefer than brief. And, Claire did notice one thing... the criticism. When we walked out of the movie, Claire looked at me and questioned, "My friend said the Beast was gay and she wasn't going to see it. But, how does she know?"

OK, I can't help it,

"Really? It's possible that believers' exaggerations of sin flaunting in this movie were even misinterpreted and misrepresented? Weird! I've never known that to happen before!"  (Please forgive me! I tell Scotty I have the spiritual gift of sarcasm.)

So, I was warned about the flaunting of the sin of homosexuality in the movie. I chose to buy a ticket and go anyway. For the entirety of the movie, though, I kept noticing sin that I wasn't warned about.

There was lying and deceit. Pride and arrogance were flaunted regularly. There were obvious and lengthy scenes of attempted murder. Human lives were belittled and mocked repeatedly and to the tunes of catchy little songs. Simply put, sin was rampant. Brokenness was everywhere. But, no blog writer warned me about that.

Why? It's an honest question. I'm not eager to minimize sin. Sin is sin is sin, and it breaks the heart of God while injuring us, His children. But, truly, I'm wondering why we say all sin is the same but live and respond like we believe quite the opposite.

Here's the thing.... Humanity's sin problem is the result of us, God's loved and perfectly cared for children, fearing that He can't or won't take care of us properly. We worry that He's holding out on us. In our brokenness, we look for answers to our pain outside the realm of what He says is good and helpful for us. We respond to others in the consequence of our sinful choices. The mess becomes bigger, and it sometimes feels like our time to right the wrongs is running out. Sadly, our emotions force us to focus on the Beast when Beauty came to restore.

The answer to our sin problem (all sin) has come, and He has paid sin's required price. It is finished! No sin is bigger than Christ's sacrifice. But, all of us have to choose forgiveness and enter into  a relationship with our Savior. Everyone has to lay down pride and admit that we need His transformation daily. Even though our lives are rescued for eternity at the moment of salvation, the transformation of hearts to seek Jesus above our sin is an ongoing process.

Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bitter sweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong 

And, there it is! The answer to our sin problem is Jesus. But, to fully embrace Him, we must receive the bitter sweet pill that we've been wrong. We must cooperate with Him and invite change. See, I don't think Jesus' death was necessary only for the "big" sins. I'm positive we'd be missing something if we weren't willing to confess that each of us, every single day, need to repent of harmful sin.

Choosing to focus all of my major effort on sins I don't struggle with could cause me to miss the piece of sanctification God wants to do in me. I want to forever view the sin that so easily entangles me, lay it before the Lord, and invite Him to change me. Again and again!

Humanity's brokenness is literally a tale as old as time. But, where sin runs deep, His grace runs deeper. Light overcame the darkness, so Christ is our Beauty. He's transforming His Bride as we move closer and closer to the day we seem Him face to face. I don't want to miss any part of my own personal transformation!

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 
2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Friday, March 10

Lessons Learned About Religion Through Depression

Several years ago, I wrote a series of blogs titled, "Lessons Learned through Adultery." We'd been in our new home in North MS for a year. A few people knew what our family was healing from, but not many. I'd come to realize that we were at a crossroad. It was time to decide if we'd continue talking about our marriage/family crisis or move on in silence. I understood that most sane people would have gladly accepted the fresh start! It seemed natural to desire to move on. The problem, though, was that I'd learned too much in the failure. Those lessons were part of my life, and to silence them would mean trying to be a different person.

So, I did what only INsane people do. I wrote about those lessons on this public blog. I shared the story of Scotty's unfaithfulness, our healing journey, and the beautiful lessons we'd learned with anyone willing to read. I remember getting messages of gratitude, but I mostly remember how it made ME feel to write those posts.

Putting my lessons in written form gave me freedom to step into the next phase of life's journey with God. I remember feeling a sense of freedom knowing that I'd completed what He asked me to do.

But, the exciting next step was actually depression. I didn't know to call it that during the process, and I'm glad I didn't. What I experienced from 2014 until the very end of 2015 was a heavy burden that I don't even have the words to describe. It wasn't debilitating. Life still carried on, and I have some beautiful memories from those years. But, nothing was easy, and I felt (all the time) like I was operating under a heavy fog.

It wouldn't lift!

I couldn't get a break.

And, some days, I thought it would suffocate every bit of life from me.

I've been reflecting on that time period for months now trying to figure out HOW God drug me out of it. There isn't any real marker pointing to the place or the time that I felt the fog lift. Suddenly, it was just gone. As I've prayed, journaled, prayed, studied His Word, and prayed some more, I believe I've found the answer. Religion had taken me as far as it could, and it wasn't enough. My soul wanted more.

There's no easy way for this lifetime Southern Baptist girl to say this, so I'm just going to rip the band-aid, say it, and hope you continue reading. I reached the point in my Christian walk that surface level discussion about the Bible, questions with answers everyone already knew, and simple Bible verses weren't enough for me. I needed more! I was hard on myself for that. It felt sinful to be unsatisfied with God.He'd been faithful through a number of trials. I loved Him as much as I could possibly love Him. But, I still felt dry, worn out, and maybe bored with life. The theology that I spoke of God's power, might, grace, and love in the life of the believer wasn't my reality in the everyday moments.

I'm so glad God left me in that place of darkness and despair as long as He did. Because I was spiritually bankrupt in every way that mattered, I had to search for something more. I had to wrestle with Him in my frustration. I had to do things differently than I'd ever done before. I was forced to go on mission to find more of the Jesus the Bible teaches about even if I had to do it differently than I'd been taught to do it. 

Now, this is a bit of a spoiler, but I want to go ahead and share the good news that I did find Him to be all the more I needed. But, in order for Him to become greater, my preferences had to become smaller. The "box" that I'd always used to handle my Christianity was too confining. Simply put, everything about religion failed me in my greatest need, and that was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Religion said there is one path to follow. Freedom showed me there is one PERSON to follow. My path to wholeness and healing looked different than the path of others. I had to follow wherever Jesus led me. I couldn't worry about what others might say about it.

Religion demanded blind obedience. Freedom allowed me to wrestle into a faith that led to submission. The religious world is very vocal about what is right and what is wrong. There was a time in my darkness, though, that I didn't care. I was frustrated with God about circumstances that wouldn't change, and I told Him. I told Him from a position of dependence on Him for clarity. But, I needed Him to know He'd disappointed me. Do you know what surprised me? He didn't mind at all. For two years, we wrestled. He won of course! But, I did too. I won a more honest faith in Him. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Religion criticized my position. Freedom corrected my unbelief. I won't even go into detail here. Religion always criticizes! Religion throws stones. But, my gentle Savior gently corrected over time. He didn't insist I get on board with His plan immediately. Like a gentleman, He guided me to His answers and His way for me. I certainly needed correction. But, criticism had no place.

Because of fear, religion didn't allow my questions. In freedom's confidence, I was invited into a conversation to deal honestly with my confusion. God is sovereign, and He is so, so powerful. We MUST stop relating to the world in fear. We are so afraid our words, our songs, and our movies are going to lead people astray that we spend every moment of our time trying to poke holes in every message. But, our God can use ANYONE and ANYTHING to draw a person to Himself. He did that with me, but if I shared those methods, a Pharisee would be so quick to critique. Religion stands guard looking for reasons to accuse. And, we can always find exactly what our eyes are set to notice.

The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely, to see if He healed on the Sabbath, in order that they might find reason to accuse Him.
Luke 6:7

Religion said, "Play it safe." Freedom caused me to chase the adventure no matter the cost. And, here's where I land today. The lessons God taught me in a two year time period have changed my life. I was afraid to venture out and ask for more from God, because religion told me to be content. I was afraid to share what I'd learned, because religion was always correcting. I was afraid to think differently from other believers, because I'd always been the one to go with the flow and not cause friction. I can't do it anymore, though. I've got to follow Jesus no matter the cost!

I let go of religion and found freedom. The heaviness has lifted. I can't go back. I won't allow myself to listen to teachers/speakers/pastors that only teach messages of, "No." In my despair, I felt the freedom of God's Spirit tell me to go deeper, ask questions, struggle with the status quo, and to be brave in believing Him for more than is safe.

I've found an adventure that's worth spending a lifetime enjoying. Now, I have to live carefully to protect it. We truly are given the mandate to be on guard against false prophets. Who are they? Where are they? What are they teaching? In Jesus' days, they were the religious. In their zeal to be good Christians, they actually missed Christ. They cared for the mask on the outside and neglected the reality of despair on the inside. Ouch! I've been there before, and I'd like to never live there again.

 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
Matthew 23: 24-25

Friday, March 3

Freedom From Despair

Over the past couple of months, I've been walking through the book of Joshua via my book, Move!, with a small group of ladies. It's been pretty surreal. It's also been surprising.

How ironic is it that I was surprised by my own story and words! God has done such a work in my heart through the story of Joshua. Their journey and their battles have provided a visual, for me, of God's call to freedom and abundant life.

About halfway through this small group study, though, God began to show me how He called me out of a depression that began during the summer of 2014 and didn't let up until the beginning of 2016. In the middle of that darkness, I felt so strange. It didn't seem appropriate that I'd begin to feel despair after God had already proven He would save our marriage and family from destruction. My depression didn't care about timing! It hit with determination and pressed in with fight for a year and a half.

These past couple of months have given me the opportunity to peek back into the darkness with enlightened vision. I've realized that the road God used to renew my strength and empower my resolve was a path I wouldn't have taken had I not been desperate for Him. If despair hadn't bullied me into a corner and threatened to suffocate on a daily basis, I may not have been willing to do whatever it took to find His victory in spite of my feelings of defeat.

See, having grown up in the Christian world, I knew all the right scripture to speak over my depression. I understood who we do and do not listen to for help and assistance in times of need. I was completely aware that there is a right and a wrong way to present myself to the Lord and plead for help. The problem, however, was that the familiar scriptures didn't lift the depression. The acceptable teachers and speakers didn't provide my greatest help. And, all of the right presentations fell flat in my great need.

With fear and anxiety, I went before the Lord in an honest way. I shared all of my frustration with my situation and with Him. I filled journals with questions while speaking disgust that my questions continued to be unanswered and our circumstances never changed.

Then, I began to listen to different speakers and teachers. I read books that some of my Christian brothers and sisters had labeled heresy and false teaching. I was careful. I wrote out prayers in each book telling God that I was pretty sure I couldn't believe in the things they were writing and teaching. I asked Him to guard my heart and my mind as I studied. I emptied myself at His feet and acknowledge my pain. In it, I asked to see as much of Him as I could possibly handle. Slowly but surely, He began to reveal Himself to me in clarity. 

The list of God's people that helped to lift me from my lowly state is long. My Bible and my journal were consistently the first stop in my search for more. But, Beth Moore, Steven Furtick, Priscilla Shirer, Levi Lusko, and Carl Lentz are a few of the speakers God used to open my eyes to believe Him for abundance in every circumstance. Books like 1,000 Gifts, The Circle Maker, and Forty Days of Prayer stretched my heart and my prayer life. They gave me the freedom to fully expose my heart and mind in prayer time with the Lord.

Here's the thing, though. For a little over a year, I didn't tell many in my Christian circle what I was learning and who I was learning from. I knew what they'd say and how they'd warn. It seemed that everywhere I turned, the people who had faithfully led me to the foot of the cross and to a Jesus that convicts, saves, and restores were being blasted as false teachers. Books filled with stories of a giant God that had moved in mighty ways despite trials, depression, and heartache had lifted my eyes from despair in my pain to hope in my Redeemer, but they were being blacklisted by my religious family.
I felt such anger about it all. But, then I remembered times when I'd done the same. God showed me that I have also been guilty of judging pieces of someone else' story without knowing the entirety.

I won't do it again, because I'd grown to see that these people God used to lead me into His light love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. After studying their work, I see the whole picture rather than scrutinized sentences taken out of context. And, what I found was that they are free. What I began to see is that they also had times in their lives when God allowed them to reach the end of themselves emotionally. In those times, they too found that they needed more from God than the Christian world said was safe and appropriate. And, like me, they found God to be all the more they needed!

Here's the thing.... No believer would argue with this statement, "God is bigger than we can even imagine." We all know the scripture in Isaiah that says, "His ways are higher than our ways." In other words, even the smartest, brightest, most knowledgeable person in the world doesn't hold a candle to the wisdom and sovereignty of our God. We will never fully figure Him out. And, if someone tells you they know everything there is to know about God, I can promise that you want nothing to do with their god. That god is too small.

So, why are we, Christians, still wasting our time picking apart Christian authors? Why do we still feel the need to pull out every little phrase that sounds incorrect among Christian speakers and vomit hate and disgust over social media about it? Should we ever stop and think that possibly another believer found great comfort in the way in which that author, that speaker, that whoever chose to share the Gospel? Is it possible we, religious Christians, are doing more harm than good with our attacks on what we're against instead of simply sharing THE CHRIST that saved our lives from the depths?

I hope I don't sound angry. I'm not. There is nothing about my position today that holds onto anger over this subject. Sadness is what I feel. I feel sadness for the years I missed out on going deeper with God, in Christ, because I was afraid I'd do or say something wrong. I will, from now on, go to God full of child-like faith knowing that if I do get something wrong, He will lovingly and Fatherly show me my mistake.

I'm grieved for other Christians who are stuck in depression, despair, or boredom because they need more from God, but they are scared to admit it and ask for it. I know there are others who live where I lived. They love God, and they want to know more of Him. But, they've fallen for religion's lie that says, "there's a right and wrong way to do this thing. And, who knows what will happen if you choose wrongly."

And, I'm terribly, terribly sad that a lost world in need of the Gospel we have is missing it because we can't agree on how to share it?

Can we agree on the fact that Christ died and was raised to life so that we could each have a personal relationship with Him? Can we put our differences aside long enough to acknowledge that it's possible God, in His sovereign wisdom, leads us all on individual pathways to know Him more and more as we grow and mature in Christ (the only way to salvation). And, can we set our fear aside and replace it with trust in our God. He is willing and able to teach and correct. The Holy Spirit lives in each of us. Through the Spirit, God will redirect our wayward paths. He's powerful! Let's not just say it. How about we actually believe that He will complete the good work He began in each individual Christian!

Today, I'm sitting in Starbucks writing this post. Over the past year, life's circumstances have remained scary and uncertain for me. But, I've not stepped back into the darkness of despair. I'm grateful I had to drop to new lows with God. Because I needed Him for more, I was able to see He is more. I don't want to go back! I still ask Him to correct me when I'm wrong. If I'm going to err, I want to err on the side of believing for too much. Maybe that sounds risky. But, my God is worth the risk. I want to know every, single bit of Him I can know this side of Heaven.

So, I'll seek and question. I'll read and listen. I'll test everything I hear against the wisdom of scripture and call on the Spirit that lives in me to help me interpret. But, I will not, will not, will not argue with a Pharisee. Legalism picks apart every statement and looks for a, "NO," which builds a wall between God and me. Relationship gives me the freedom to pursue God with my questions, wrestle with Him over my frustrations, and ask for more of His revelation. All of these send me towards Him, because I know He will love me even if I'm wrong. And, in His love He will correct me when needed allowing me to move one step closer to Him in the process of sanctification. Then, I'm better equipped to lead others towards Him where He will be the author and perfecter of their personal faith story.

Ahhhh.... What a relief!

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don't follow their example. For they don't practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden."

Matthew 23: 1-4