What’s Making America not-so-Great and Killing the Evangelical Church

      A few years ago I began writing a new manuscript. Thirty thousand words later and a two year sabbatical, I am once again reminded of the importance of sharing this message. So, below I have decided to share one of the chapters of this unfinished work with you, in hopes that God will speak to both you and me about the dangers of the Entitlement mentality. How often I forget to leave this door closed! Perhaps you can relate? It doesn’t take much effort to look around our world and our churches to see its nasty infiltration. Let’s pray that we, as a church and the bride of Christ, will come together–laying aside our expectations–and learn to be content with the peace of Jesus alone.

Excerpt from:

The Devil’s Alphabet: 25 Doors You Don’t Want to Open

CHAPTER THREE

Door #5: Entitlement

Counterfeit: easily offended, anger towards God, feeling as if we are owed something

            Truth: We have no rights, all our rights belong to God, we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The Origin of Entitlement

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:13-14, NLT

Most of us have heard it said, “Satan’s downfall was his pride.” But I would challenge that statement. Opening the door of entitlement often leads to other doors, doors like pride. But pride begins with entitlement. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines entitlement as: “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” Before pride, Satan saw something he wanted and decided he deserved what he saw. Satan saw God, His glory and His throne, and believed he deserved those things for himself. This entitlement mentality was the beginning of the end for Satan. It’s one of the things he used to tempt Eve as well; she doubted God’s word first, then began to believe she had a right to the knowledge God was clearly withholding from her. Whether we realize it or not, we stumble through this door more often than we think.

Entitlement Mentality with God

            Anger towards God, I think we’ve all experienced this at times. But what is the source of this anger? The source, more often than not, is an entitlement mentality. As Christians we tend to fall victim to thinking life is supposed to go a certain way because we’re obeying God. We’re promised blessings when we obey, right? While obedience to God is a promise of blessing, it is not a promise of good or pleasurable circumstances. The blessings we are promised aren’t necessarily material in nature (though they certainly can be). You’re going to read this repeatedly and I say it again now to continue to drive the point home: one of our greatest blessings is having a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Peace has no price-tag, and those who have this peace know exactly what I’m talking about. The moment we start to believe God owes us something is the same moment our spiritual peace begins to erode because like it or not, our circumstances will not always be pleasant.

“Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?” Romans 9:20-21, NLT

Those are difficult verses to swallow, especially if we’ve walked through the door of entitlement. It doesn’t help that there are an abundance of religious leaders today teaching and writing about things like health, wealth, and prosperity. This never ceases to amaze me. How can this teaching be so prominent when our Bible contains much of the opposite when it describes the lives of Christians? Look at Job! Look at Paul, John the Baptist, or pretty much anyone who followed the teachings of Jesus. They were persecuted, punished, tortured, and murdered because they followed God. Materially speaking, they were anything but prosperous. And while Job was wealthy, he also lost all of his wealth, health, and property; he even lost his entire family. None of his friends understood his suffering because of their own entitlement mentality. “Surely God only allows such horrors to befall the wicked, evil, and rebellious, not the righteous,” they reasoned. And the same thing happens in our lives. We suffer and our fellow Christians judge our spiritual lives because deep down they too believe good things are synonymous with obedience to God.

Sometimes life is great, we’re showered blessing upon blessing, good things raining down from the heavens abound. And other times it seems the only thing raining on us is hydrochloric acid; burning, painful, searing loss after loss. In either case, God owes us nothing. Certainly God wants to bless us, but it’s the spiritual, inner blessings He is focused on. It’s the transformation of us into the likeness of His Son that he knows will be our ultimate bliss.

As a mother, I strive to teach my daughter healthy eating habits, but that’s not easy with a young child who seems extraordinarily picky. Rest assured, when my daughter opens up her school lunch and sees fruits and vegetables, her reaction isn’t gratitude. ‘Round and ‘round we go fighting about it, but in the end she either eats the produce or goes hungry. She believes I am torturing her, but I know, as much as she dislikes it, that I’m doing the right thing for her body, growth, health, and development. I could let her eat artificial cheesy snacks and chocolate cookies every day, to show that I love her and care about her happiness, but a better way to show I love and care about her is to withhold those things from her, saving them as an occasional special treat. In fact, she appreciates those things a lot more when she doesn’t get them every day. Similarly, God wants to show us He loves us and cares for us, but His idea of love is far different (and greater) than ours. Our prayers sometimes sound like a six-year-old begging for cake; God hears those prayers, but many times chooses to answer with carrots and apples. When we have an entitlement mentality, the raw produce version of answered prayers or life circumstances will probably anger, baffle, and discourage us. When that is our reaction to the circumstances in our lives, we need to stop and ask God for a heart check, as we’ve likely walked through the door of entitlement.

Entitlement Mentality with People

            Let’s face it, God is God and He’s going to do and allow whatever He wants. For some of us that truth isn’t terribly difficult to accept. After all, He’s God and we’re not; but when it comes to other people, well now, that’s a different story. We expect others to forgive us, treat us with kindness, care about our hurts, ask us how we’re doing, sympathize and empathize with us, and basically fulfill our emotional needs in every way we were designed to get from Jesus. God forbid someone fail to meet our lofty expectation, that’s when our entitlement mentality rears its ugly head. We know we’ve walked through that door when we find ourselves easily offended, overly sensitive, resentful, bitter, gossipy, judgmental, and critical of others; basically an overall jerk of a Christian (those who knows me well are laughing right now, because they know I have struggled with all of these character flaws). Somewhere along the way, someone failed to meet our unspoken, assumed expectation, and that hurts, especially when we feel we’re entitled to a certain response or action from said person.

It’s Not All About Me (or You)

“I’ll never forget the day I decided to try a new church. Just months after being widowed, I had moved and was looking for a church that was similar to the one where my husband had been pastoring. That day, I had gone through the process of finding the place where my children would go during the service and after leaving them in the capable hands of the teachers, I walked to the sanctuary. As people were milling around, I waited for someone to introduce themselves to me…but no one did. With my heart pounding and my hands sweating, I realized just how alone I was. New situations hadn’t bothered me before, but that was because I normally had my husband at my side.

“When I found a seat, I half expected the people sitting next to me to turn their heads and acknowledge my presence, but they didn’t. Then, as the worship began, I found myself fighting back tears. When your late husband was an amazing worship leader, pretty much any song sung in church reminds you of him. And so there I stood, alone, in an unfamiliar church, choking back tears. For a moment I was embarrassed because I felt I was making a scene. But that moment of embarrassment vanished when I realized my sorrow had gone unseen. For a while, that day really bothered me. How could those people be so self-focused that they didn’t even notice me? I felt invisible. I felt as if no one cared.”

Wow, that’s rough! Certainly my friend here had every right to be upset over the situation. I know I’ve experienced something eerily similar in many church settings, and I’m sure you have too. Unfortunately, it’s easy to walk in with expectations of how we are to be treated; failing to see that perhaps others have the same expectations of us. Before you know it, we’re all ticked off and offended with each other. Fortunately, God used the situation to speak to my friend about her own attitude, rather than the attitude of everyone around her (He has a way of doing that to us, doesn’t He?).

“Months later, as the intensity of my grief wore off I have come to see something. It’s not the people around me who have become more self-focused during my trials—it’s me. And honestly, at times I’m the most self-focused person I know. I had walked into that church feeling as if everyone should notice me. I stood during worship and had the audacity to think that the people gathered there would be looking at me instead of worshipping God.

“If I have learned only one thing the past few years, it’s that life isn’t all about me. And much like this memory shows, church isn’t all about me.”

It’s not all about me and it’s not all about you. The sooner we accept that truth the happier we will be. In a perfect world maybe our expectations of others would be met more often, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world full of difficult and unfair circumstances. One of the keys to living a more peaceful, less frustrated life, is to give our expectations to God, and leave our assumptions behind the closed door of entitlement. We’re going to be hurt and disappointed by people, because we’re all self-centered, sinful human beings, it’s a fact of life. We don’t appreciate it when others make assumptions about us and our motives, so it shouldn’t be a shocker that we need to treat others the same way we’d like to be treated—with grace.

Truth Encounter

            The door of entitlement is a tough one, one the Devil will place in our path time and time again. It’s what got him in trouble and what has plagued humanity from the beginning of time. The best defense is to get out of denial and admit we have a problem with this self-centered way of dealing with people and God. The following prayer can be used to help you refocus on the truth, and reject this door of entitlement. No matter what words you use to express your heart to God, say them out loud so the Devil can hear you and flee.

“Jesus, I know I’ve often walked through the door of entitlement, becoming bitter, resentful, angry, or offended with you or others over my unmet expectations. I now choose to give all of those expectations to you (take a moment to think about and name specific situations where you were hurt or offended by someone, or angry at God for allowing a situation into your life); my expectations of how others should act, my expectations of how you should answer my prayers, and my expectations of how I think my life should go when I am living to please you. In the name of Jesus I choose to reject the lie that I am entitled to anything, and accept the truth that it is only because of your grace I am even breathing at this very moment. I am not my own, but have been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood. Teach me how to bring glory to you through my attitude, and by showing grace to others as you have shown me grace. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of entitlement. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

 

Why I Walked Away from Church and Christianity

Why I Walked Away from Church and Christianity

Part One: The day I stopped praying.

The look on her face said it all, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks, the loss and grief so evident in her eyes—in that moment my world changed, well, my spiritual world anyways. How could God let this happen again? I was so sure, we were so sure we knew what He was going to do for our friend. Both of us had reassured her how confident we were in God’s answer to our prayers. We kept telling her to calm down and relax, God’s got this. And then all of a sudden He didn’t “get” it. Cause if He did, He wouldn’t have let us believe He would do what He wasn’t going to do.

Anger and despondency towards God began to grow in my heart. So many ungodly people bringing children into the world with no problem, so many people choosing to kill their unborn children, so many unfit parents raising children, and yet when one godly woman wants nothing more than to raise more godly children, God says, “No.” Harsh. Unfair. Cruel.

I stopped praying that day. I didn’t know what to say to God anymore. Why bother? He’s going to do what He’s going to do, whether or not I ask for it. Whether or not I believe. So really, why should I even bother with it? I had literally been at the height of faith and belief one day, to the very bottom the next day, drowning in doubt and uncertainty.

Over the next several months a series of unfortunate events took over my life, as well as that of my friends. It seemed for all three of us, suffering and heartache have been the name of the game. After a while, after life has kicked your ass real good, hope seems rather elusive.

Part Two: The day I stopped attending Church.

Several months before all this, I had sat weeping in my Pastor’s office, confessing how I was at a point where I didn’t even want to go to church. That life had turned me into a cynic. How I used to be happy, positive, and outward focused, and now I was negative, cynical, and could barely get through each day. Church was torturous for me. Those who know me well know that I cannot stand lying and fake-ness. I don’t like being deceived, nor do I want to deceive others. So going to church every week, plastering on a fake smile and shaking hands with people seemed disgusting and reprehensible to me. I’d rather just sleep in, thank you very much. I left the church that day and really, that was probably the last time I experienced a deep connection in any way while in that building.

Sometimes you can feel your soul fading away. Hope running in the opposite direction while you watch helplessly. And then you just, stop, you give up, you quit trying. That’s pretty much how it went down for me. I tried to hang on, but seeing my friend suffer the way she did was the proverbial last straw for me. Of course, the ensuing tragedies to befall my life and that of my two closest friends over the next several months didn’t bode well for my dwindling spirituality.

Occasionally a glimmer of hope would shine through the deep darkness of despair but it was usually brief. Only lasting until the next setback in circumstances came crashing down. Of course, this is what I deserve, after all. You see, I’m not one of those people who believe God owes me something. Quite the opposite, actually. I see every “bad” thing as God giving me what I deserve for the many years I lived my life in rebellion. When bad things happen to my friends I feel crushed for them, they don’t deserve it. But when bad things happen to me, well, why not? You sow what you reap, after all. I’m just getting my just rewards. Eventually I succumbed to the belief that my life, despite my desire to atone for my bad choices, would never be happy, would never be “successful”. I would never be forgiven, but instead forced to live in a state of perpetual punishment. God was going to let me suffer forever. I gave up and basically told God, “I still believe in You, but I don’t trust you. And I don’t plan on talking to you anymore.”

Recognizing my starving spiritual state I immediately withdrew myself from ministry. I stopped going to church, except for the days my husband would drag me there, but sitting through the services proved to be quite uncomfortable. We started coming late and leaving early so we could just hear the sermon and avoid the mushy gushy singing stuff. It’s kind of ironic that my husband, new to the faith, turned out to be the stronger “Christian” than me, the one who spent most of her life in church. I never said this to my husband, but I often thought, “Just wait till you see what the Christianity stuff is all about. Just wait till you see what horrible things God allows in your life, now that you’re trying to obey Him. Good luck with that.” (I told you I was cynical!)

Part Three: The day I stopped identifying as a “Christian”

Another thing I “gave up” was social media. I took a huge step back from things like Facebook because I found myself constantly enraged at the BS I would read on a daily basis. The BS that came from none other than self-professing Christians. Combined with my lack of trust in God, I began to hate Christianity more than anything. Christians can be jerks, you know? I mean really. sometimes more than the average “heathen”…

You’re gay? You’re going to hell.

You believe in the rapture? You’re going to hell.

You believe in eternal security? You’re definitely going to hell.

You don’t have good theology (meaning you don’t share MY theology)? Better turn before you burn, my friend.

Oh my gosh, you have tattoos? You belong to Satan.

Christians can be the most irritating judgmental people on the planet. And I totally get why people walk away from their faith. Many Christians tend to spend more time fighting with each other about who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s really saved and who’s not (like that’s any of our business???). It’s DISGUSTING. I can only imagine how this type of “Christianity” pleases Jesus—which is sarcasm because I know without a doubt, it does NOT please Him. It seems a great deal of Christians have missed the point. You see, you can stand for something (or against something) without being an asshole. Seriously. You can say why you believe what you believe without insisting everyone else who disagrees with you is an idiot and clearly not “really” saved. I’m sorry, I didn’t know we had so many perfect Christians qualified to judge people’s salvation and spirituality! Maybe we should live by example and let the Holy Spirit be the convicting one. You and me, we make terrible Holy Spirits because that’s NOT OUR JOB.

Think going to the movie theatre is a sin? Cool, don’t go to the theatre. Live by example. But don’t tell me that I’m going to hell, or that I’m clearly inferior to you spiritually because I still choose to go to the theatre. Live out your convictions people. Actions. If someone asks why you have your conviction, by all means, share your reasons with grace and love.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” –1 John 3:18, NLT
The other side of the see-saw.

And then there’s this other thing. The complete breakdown of integrity within the church. It’s like we’ve either got the Pharisees over here making a living out of judging everyone else, or we’ve got the Bible-is-optional group who believes actually following God’s word is up for debate if you’re a Christian. I’m talking about people in leadership positions who habitually practice lifestyles contrary to what is clear in God’s word. And let’s be real, it’s not too hard to figure out who those people are, because they’re the ones posting their personal drama all over social media. Of course, along with those Friday night drunken party photos, they’re also talking about how much God is blessing them in the church stuff their doing. Hmmm.

Am I saying you’ve got to be perfect to serve in the church? Obviously not. But have some integrity in your personal life? Yeah, probably a good idea if you’re in a position of leadership. And if you continue to struggle, admit it, and get help. And maybe step down from leading for a while. Positions of leadership really should be reserved for the spiritually mature (not perfect!). And while you certainly have every right to pick and choose what you want to follow or believe in God’s word, I also have every right to not allow you to be in a position to lead me or my family members because I flat out don’t trust you or your “commitment” to truth-seeking. (As I said earlier, going through a major season of depression and doubt, it was easy for me to withdraw from leading and serving because I knew I wasn’t in a spiritually healthy place to be telling someone else what to do! Common sense, y’all. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to teach people about defeating depression if you haven’t defeated it! Just like you can’t effectively teach kids about purity if you aren’t practicing it…etc.)

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”—Romans 6:1-2

So yeah, sometimes Christians suck and sometimes I’m embarrassed to use the term or identify with it. In fact, every time a crazy driver going 10-15mph over the speed limit zooms past me and gives me a dirty look, and then I notice the church sticker on their car, I’m even more convinced how much I loathe the term “Christians”.

“Wow, Rebecca, sounds like you’re the one being judgmental.”

I knew you would go there. Listen, I’m not going to defend myself here. Maybe it is judgmental to expect integrity within the Church, especially leadership. Maybe that’s just asking too much. And yeah, it’s none of my business what people are doing in their personal life. But then again, they make it everyone’s business when they post it all over social media. So…

What I’m saying is, I recognize the irony of my argument. It’s flawed, I know. But it’s where I’m at right now.I’m a fan of “real talk” and honesty, whether or not that realness is “Un-Christian”. And I have to add, I DO have a small group of ladies who feel the same way about Christianity and the state of the Church. They’re just nicer than I am about how they talk about it. That’s a maturity thing, they’re wiser than I am. And thank GOD they put up with me and “get” me.

Part Four: The day I finally understood what it all meant.

One of my favorite shows is “19 Kids and Counting” which follows the lives of the Duggar family. A Christian family with integrity, who live by and teach their children the Bible. They receive a lot of criticism from, you guessed it, Christians. They’re too strict, they’re cultish, they’re obviously abusive. Blah blah. Everyone’s an expert. Anyways, I don’t care about all that. I love them and what they stand for.

Samantha (my daughter who just turned 7) and I were watching the wedding of one of the Duggar girls, actually the first girl in the family to get married. They talked about how they saved themselves for marriage, including their first kiss. This is something we have taught to our daughter and continue to reinforce. How important it is to save the gift of kissing and hugging for our spouse only. And what a special gift it will be to know that your spouse is the only one you have ever kissed and held hands with (about as graphic as we’re going to get with a 7 year old). With great excitement (and some tear-shedding), we watched Jill and Derrick kiss for the first time at the altar, on their wedding day. Sam explained how she would be very nervous to kiss on her wedding day for the first time. I smiled, a proud moment to hear such a thing from your child. To know that the seeds are sprouting. And then I bawled like a baby.

For the first time in several months God spoke to me plain as day. I finally understood why I had no choice but to trust Him and cling to Him no matter how ugly life gets. Because He is my daughter’s only hope in life, and without a praying, faithful mommy, she stands little chance of standing by her faith when temptation strikes. She needs a strong foundation. Without Jesus, there is no hope. Trusting Him is our only chance of making it through life. Even if that means sometimes (or most of the time) we don’t seem to get what we want.

I’m not saying all the depression melted away, but a great deal of it subsided. The fog began to lift. My daughter is the reason I gave my life to Christ in the first place after living many years in rebellion, and she is the reason I have to press on. I have to be the example, I have to live the example, because words are just words. People, especially children, can see through lip service. It means nothing. Showing what I believe through my actions says everything and that includes trusting Jesus when it doesn’t make sense. When it hurts. When it doesn’t seem fair. Without that trust, there really is no hope. No hope for my daughter to make it through life as a God-fearing woman of integrity. Jesus is her only hope. And I will spend the rest of my life on my knees praying for her to remain strong in her faith—much stronger than her mommy. That she chooses to cling to Jesus even when society (and likely other Christians) are screaming at her and calling her a right-wing lunatic. The only hope for her, for any of us, is Jesus. If you take that away, well then, you’ve got nothing to anchor your life on. Even with Jesus, tragedy and hurt is hard enough to deal with, but without Him? Not a chance. I would have given up on life by now, if it wasn’t for Jesus.

Why trust God? Because there is no hope beyond God and what He promises to those who choose to follow when nothing makes sense, when nothing is going “right”, when we’re not getting the answers we think we need. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.” God was here all along and I know that. But it was nice to hear Him speak once again and to feel the comfort of His presence. To see Hope again, after over a year of darkness.

In Conclusion:

In the end I have decided to walk away from the Church and Christianity, and embrace the Bible and Christ alone. I’ll worship with other Christians in a place called a church—whatever church God calls me to on any given Sunday. But I won’t make church and churchy things my idol. I won’t find my identity in church and activities, but in what God says about me. I won’t reach for redemption and atonement through works, because grace is free. I won’t search for accolades, because in God’s eyes, I’m already “one of a kind”. I refuse to insert myself into the holy huddles that plague every church. You know what? I don’t want to be part of the “in” crowd. I want to be part of Jesus’ crowd. Sometimes that means standing alone. But really, with Jesus, you’re never “alone”.

And I no longer identify as a Christian, but as a Jesus loving, truth seeking Christ follower. I’m not interested in beating people up with theology (which really only turns them away). I’m not interesting in debating doctrine. I’m interested in following God’s plan for my life and living out the truth of God’s word to the best of my ability and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. That’s really the life I’ve been called to and that is now the life I seek. I don’t want to be in any box but Jesus’ box. I want to live grace and be a beacon of grace because that’s all my life is—an outpouring of God’s immeasurable grace. I have no right or place to point fingers at anyone but myself, but at the same time, I will carefully choose who I will allow to influence my daughter and who I will sit under and learn from, because integrity is important to me. That is simply my personal conviction.

I will never really understand why God allows some things to happen, and I have since given up trying to explain the why’s or maybe’s of it all. I’ve learned through all of this heartache that what people really need is someone to listen to their hurts, be there for them, hug them, maybe send them a note of encouragement, and only give “advice” when it is clearly asked for. Hurting people don’t necessarily need answers and explanations, they just need someone to hear them and meet them where they’re at. They need someone to reach out and notice their need and show that they care. They need to know they’re not alone. They need to know that Jesus (LOVE) is their only hope.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT

______________________________________________

PS–I realize I used some strong language in this post and, no doubt, offended someone. You can save your comments about it. I know I’m probably not a “real” Christian and am doomed because I used “unChristian” words. Thank you for wanting to warn me though, I appreciate it.

Waiting For Redemption

 

Waiting for Redemption

I’m not particularly looking forward to sharing what I’m about to share with you. In fact, I’ve been fighting it for some time, which, as you may have noticed, is why I haven’t written anything in a couple of months. But the Holy Spirit keeps pressing so, reluctantly (yeah, I don’t always obey cheerfully, shocker!) I am sharing an extremely difficult journey in hopes that someone else out there will make better choices as a result of reading this, and perhaps, save themselves and their loved ones unnecessary pain, heartache, and grief.

 

 
About four years ago my life was completely different than it is today. I was abusing prescription pain killers; I was also taking other mind-altering prescriptions that left me, as my husband later shared, in a state of what he considered the “crazies”. I was emotionally all over the place but mostly in a deep dark depression that left me suicidal on many occasions.

 

 
At the same time, I was struggling with my faith. I had only “come back” to God two years earlier, and was fumbling through the logistics of how to cope with being in an “unequally yoked” marriage. I harbored a great deal of bitterness and resentment towards my husband as well. But, rather than communicate with him about my struggles, I chose to talk about my problems in somewhat of a venting manner, within the confines of a twelve step program (even in the twelve step program, I continued to abuse the drugs). I had no idea how to cope with the things in my life, not just the present situation but my past choices.

 

 
I vented to anyone and everyone except my husband and received varying degrees of advice. I had some Christians advise me to divorce and start over; after all, God would want me to be happy (that’s a load of crap, by the way). I had a lot of voices whispering in my ear, but the one voice I wasn’t hearing or even looking for was God’s. I didn’t pray about it, I talked to people about it. In turn, I followed human reasoning.

 

 
So, one day I made my decision. I told my husband what I was doing, and that it was my body, I didn’t give a damn about his opinion (what a great Christian influence I was!). I refused to pray about this decision because I knew God’s answer wouldn’t be the same as what the people in my life were giving me. I liked their advice, it suited my purposes better. So, in somewhat of a selfish fit of anger, I stormed off and willingly made my choice.

 

 
This decision was made based on emotions and current circumstances, without any regard for the fact that God is all-powerful, and maybe, just maybe, He could and would change the circumstances, my husband’s heart, or my own heart (which was in desperate need of an overhaul!). I didn’t take any of that into consideration though, and by making the decision I did, I deeply wounded my husband in a way that very well could have ended our marriage.

 

 
Over the next two years I got sober, and discovered what a real relationship with Christ is like (as opposed to the legalistic way I was accustomed to). My heart was changing, and in that change, God gave me a glimpse of what I had done through His eyes. I’ll never forget that moment driving home from church in tears. I felt like Jesus was in the passenger seat with me, it was a presence I had never felt so clearly before. I looked in the rearview mirror and there it was, in an instant, my decision laid before me in all its awfulness. I saw my husband’s hurt for the first time. I have no words to describe it other than sheer mortification over what I had done.

 

 
Over the next year my husband and I talked about what happened for the first time, trying to work through it. Then last year the unexplained medical problems kept coming in waves. We went through thousands in medical bills only to never get a straight answer or diagnosis. During that time, my husband made a decision of his own. He started coming to church and told me he “prayed and something happened”. He had a change of heart and it was more than just a prayer. His whole attitude and demeanor changed. We began communicating with each other in absolute honesty for the first time. Ten years of anger and resentment over all the unspoken “issues” was laid out. Several weeks went by where my husband and I cried with each other and dealt with these things one by one until healing could take place in each area.

 

 
What’s happened in our marriage, in my heart, and now my husband’s heart, is nothing short of a miracle. Many have prayed for him and I over the years, and now these prayers are being answered. To hear my husband say, “I want to be the spiritual leader of this family” is, well, it’s a dream come true! Four years ago, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) believe I would see him change or hear those words spoken in sincerity. I could only see what my immediate surroundings were dishing out, and what my emotions were screaming at me. It’s a dangerous thing to make life-altering decisions in times like those.

 

 
A couple of months ago I finally received an answer to the medical problems that had caused me and my family so much heartache and stress over the past year. It could all be traced back to that choice I made four years ago. Yes, it was all because of that choice, the choice I made.

 

 
And friends, I can’t tell you how that feels in words. I can’t articulate the pain, guilt, and shame from realizing you’ve caused your own pain in such a way. And not just for me, but for my family. The stress and financial burden, the doctors, the prayer requests, and it all came back to that one choice. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the words, “This is all your fault” hasn’t swept through my head a few million times over the past eight weeks.

 

 
So, where does that leave me now? I guess I am in a place of waiting. A place of mourning, a place of grief as I realize my child and husband have been irreparably damaged by a stupid choice I made four years ago. That our family is forever changed by it. That my day to day life is changed as I continue to suffer the physical symptoms that will not just magically go away.

 

 
During this time of grief and sorrow, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve read how God redeems things, and I’ve tried to take hope in that. But honestly, hope wanes most days because in my humanness I can’t fathom how God could redeem this situation nor do I expect Him to. The sad fact is, some of our choices won’t get “redeemed”. Just because we repent does not mean everything is magically fixed with a God sized band-aide.

 

 
So, I’m here to ask you, to plead with you, please please don’t make choices, big or small, in the heat of emotion or in the depths of desperate circumstances. You may think things (or people’s hearts) will never change, but they can.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but just in the last several months I’ve talked to several women who are making terrible choices based on current circumstances. Oh, I can’t tell you how it breaks my heart. One day I know they will grieve those same choices and gnash their teeth in frustration over playing god in their life, instead of stepping aside and trusting and fully surrendering to His perfect plan.

 

 
So, there’s been a lot of crying and wondering if, when, or how God will fix this, understanding He owes me nothing but taking comfort in the fact that He knows my heart. And despite this I am so thankful for the radical change that has come over my marriage. Wow, it’s more than I can comprehend. God is healing our hurts little by little and drawing us closer together every day.
I know I haven’t been specific about what I “did”, but at this point it’s just too painful to talk about. I only share this because I know some of you are feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances, wondering when God will show up and just “fix” stuff or make life easier for a second. While you’re in that time of waiting and wondering, tune out the noise of the people around you and tune in to the Holy Spirit. As hard is it may seem to do what He’s asking, He knows the future, and whatever He leads you in will be for your greatest good. The heartache and grief of choosing to walk in your own way or listen to the advice of people who are content to tell you only what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear will never be worth it.

 

 
As I continue to grieve this loss, I am holding on, if only by the tips of my fingers, that hope is out there somewhere, and God will someday turn this pile of ashes into something meaningful, even if it seems impossible as to how that would come about.

 

 
This post isn’t filled with Scriptures or Christianese, just a simple message from my heart to yours. Choices matter, in our lives and the lives of those we love most. Our choices will affect others. Seek God’s counsel above all else, trust Him, and for crying out loud, listen to Him! Don’t turn back, friends, don’t even look back. Press on, follow Him, and don’t force your will upon His. He’s God, He actually knows what He’s doing. He wants what’s best for you. What I am experiencing now is something God wanted to protect me from. The pain my husband is experiencing is something God wanted to protect him from. The questions and confusion and hurt this has caused my little daughter, is something God wanted to protect her from. . He knew the second I made that choice the ramifications, even though years would pass in the interim. How I wish I had trusted Him!

 

 
And if you’re currently where I’m at, grieving the losses of your choices and watching those around you hurt because of what you’ve done, take heart, Hope is there, it’s just hard to see through the fog of shame and remorse. Eventually the fog lifts. No matter what, don’t give up on your faith making a bad situation even worse. The best thing you can do for your family now is to surrender to Christ 100%, learn from this, and trust Him to bring something good out of it, as He promises to all who love Him and surrender to Him (Romans 8:28).

 

 
Plugging this story into my website is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, it’s embarrassing to some degree, and painful to open up to others in such a deep and personal way, but I am learning, albeit slowly, to trust God in all things, even in something as mundane as a blog post. So, with that being said, I would love to hear your stories of redemption and hope, if nothing more than to encourage me in my sorrow (yes, it’s true, I don’t always have it all together!). Please share your experiences in the comments or email me @ RebeccaAarup@mail.com

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

            A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”

            As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”

            Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.

            Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.

            Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).

            I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.

            Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”

            Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”

            Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.

The Simplest Answer for Life’s Deepest Problems

It’s no surprise that, for most of us, our lives center around what is being done to us–through circumstances or other people. It almost feels as if we live in a constant state of reactions, rather than responses. Carefully consider the following quote. Read it a few times (I needed to read it several times to completely digest it). Really, if we saw each other the way described, if we treated each other this way, the deepest issues we face would melt away. Life would be about loving, not reacting.

Over the past year God has gifted me with two beautiful women who treat me this way. It is the first time in my life I have ever felt 100% accepted, loved, and like I belong somewhere. The first time in my life. They live out the truths in this quote, and I do my best–through the strength of Christ–to do the same with them. I truly believe this is what has allowed us, despite being deeply sensitive people, to have such a friendship and love for each other. As believers, we should seek this as a standard operating procedure in all relationships, whether with our employers, the homeless guy on the street, or the snooty pharmacist at the grocery store.

There are no ordinary people…

 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feelings for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latita—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

 

–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

When Jesus Won’t Fight For You

When Jesus Won’t Fight For You

 

He called me out smack in the middle of the class, thirty or so people staring wide-eyed as I sat there in tears. “It’s easy to ask Jesus to fight for us, isn’t it? Because then it’s His fault when we continue to struggle,” he said.

Just before receiving that verbal slap in the face, I had shared an extremely sensitive situation with Steve—in front of the entire Sunday class. I had confessed dealing with a major temptation, and thoughts of giving in were all-consuming, I felt helpless and overwhelmed. I had spent a great deal of time during the weeks previous begging God to deliver me from the inevitable. At one point I called an old friend and mentor out of desperation and confessed my inner torment. She counseled me, “Girl, you need to get on your knees and give it God. Ask Him to fight for you.”

Well, that sounded good, and that’s what I did. But why wasn’t it working? Tearfully I vomited out my situation to Steve as the class looked on. I told him how I’d been begging God to deliver me; to fight for me, but it just didn’t seem to be working. That’s when he stopped everything and called out the BS in my thinking.

Maybe you’ve heard it before? I know I’ve heard it prayed numerous times over the years, “Oh Jesus, fight for so and so.” I’ve had people pray it over me and I’ve prayed it for others. It sounds great and I had never thought this phrase or prayer was unbiblical until Steve served me a healthy dose of truth that morning.

“Guess what, Rebecca, Jesus already did fight for you—and He won.”

Wait, what?!

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14

Notice the verb tenses used here: has, brought, have, instead of is or bringing. These are all past tense. It’s a done deal.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15

“You have been raised with Christ.” Colossians 3:1

“He has reconciled you.” Colossians 1:22

“In Him you were also circumcised…not with the circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.” Colossians 2:11

“God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:14

Is it sinking in yet? Maybe you should take a few moments to slowly read through the book of Colossians if you’re still in doubt.

The truth is, Jesus fought and won the battle for our freedom on the cross, and the moment we surrendered our life to Christ, inviting Him to take over what we realized we couldn’t do for ourselves (salvation), the war was over. Unfortunately for us, the hardest part is to really believe this truth—that the war was fought and won at the cross. That is where our Enemy comes in and the ball gets put in our court. Jesus says, “I’ve already won. I already fought for you. Now it’s your turn to use the weapons of warfare I’ve provided to resist your Enemy.” You see, Satan will spend the rest of his days trying to convince us we are helpless. And you know what? He’s pretty damn good at it. Just look around—you won’t have to look far to see churches full of lifeless defeated Christians, struggling from day to day just to exist and go through the motions. This, friends, is not the “life to the full” we’ve been promised.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

Now how exactly can our Enemy steal, kill, and destroy what Jesus has already done? He can’t! But he can deceive us into thinking he can (the devil is a schemer!). And this great illusion by the greatest Counterfeiter of all time is what trips us up. Satan’s ruse is all smoke and mirrors. It’s a mind game, and it’s a good one, one that takes a lot of Christians out entirely through depression, apostasy, suicide, and lukewarm worldliness, among other things.

As children of the God of Angel Armies (The Lord of Hosts) we have been given the authority and responsibility to fight against the Enemy with the weapons Jesus has equipped us with. But this isn’t the crazy whack-a-mole type of violent fight we conjure up in our imaginations. It’s a remarkably motionless fight. Really, it requires a lot of standing around.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemesPut on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand…be alert and keep on always praying for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:11-18

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9

Fact: The day of evil is coming. We will be tempted, we will be sought after, and we will be preyed upon. It is an inevitable fact of life if you’re a child of God. And yes, it will suck, it will hurt, and you’ll feel like giving up.

Fact: You do have a responsibility in this. Jesus has already fought and won this war. But the battle for your life continues and is opposed by your enemy. Jesus equipped you to resist these attacks with weapons like the belt of truth, the sword of the spirit, the shield of faith…etc.

Fact: It will be hard. In fact, it will be harder to resist these attacks by standing firm on faith and truth then it will be to give in to the doubt, depression, and defeat of the Enemies lies (“You’re a failure, you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never succeed, God can’t use you, and you’re such a hypocrite, just give up, might as well do what you’ve been doing, change is too hard…”).

Fact: Resisting the Enemy is a choice we all have. We can choose to stand on the word of truth, or listen to the whispers of temptation, shame, and doubt. We can choose to believe that Jesus won this war, or we can choose to keep asking Him to do what he’s already done. Most of our inner struggles boil down to a choice we aren’t making (to believe the truth!).

Fact: When we are being attacked, we will not want to pray. Our spiritual life will be opposed. We will feel as if we have no business talking to God. Things like anger, bitterness, shame, regret, and guilt will interfere and distract our communion with God. This distraction is just that—a distraction. It is not a reality. God has not left us. He has turned his ear from us. He hears us even when the Enemy whispers to us that our prayers are bouncing off the walls. This is why we are admonished to pray without ceasing. Keep talking to Jesus! Continue to pour your heart out to Him! HE IS ALWAYS THERE. Once again, stop asking Jesus to “be with” you or “be with so and so.” This is another one of those prayers He can’t respond to because He’s already answered it! He is always there and He will never leave. Instead, replace such requests with, “Jesus, help me to experience your presence because I know you are with me. Thank you for never leaving me even when the Enemy tries to convince me I am alone.”

Friends, Jesus has already fought for you. Now you get to stand firm on that truth. He has never left you. Ask Him to help you see with new eyes and trust His word with both your head and your heart. Ask Him to align your emotions with the truth and resist the Enemy whenever you are tempted to doubt what you know is true. You have a choice—the ball is in your court. Resist him and he will flee. That is God’s promise to you; now you must choose to stand on it.

___________________________________

Related articles:

If You really Want the World to Change, it Starts with This

Why You Might Need to Stand on Your Head 

When “ONE” Really Does Matter

When “ONE” Really Does Matter

 

Earlier this year I felt led to start a life group at New Life Community Church—a life group that focused on spiritual freedom, spiritual healing, spiritual warfare, and the icky issues that often get overlooked in favor of more traditional studies by famous authors. You know, the studies about Grace, How to Pray, How to Disciple, How to do this and that and the other. Don’t get me wrong, I love those types of studies too, but sometimes people walk into church a little “messy” on the inside, and sometimes those people need something a little different than another “Five Steps to Being a Better Christian.”

I was excited as it got under way. There were four of us ladies, which would be perfect when it came to discussing the more sensitive issues we were likely to explore. (It’s easier to share in a small small group then in a room with twenty people.) But after just a few weeks our small group was reduced to microscopic proportions as just I and one other woman remained. Not surprisingly I struggled with the doubt of whether or not I had really “heard” God’s voice in this endeavor. Apparently I had some unmet expectations regarding the “success” of this group. (Don’t you love how God kicks us off our platform of pride rather bluntly?) But in the end I knew I had followed His leading, and I committed myself to sticking it out, even if it was only so “ONE” little life could possibly be affected in a positive way (and even if that “ONE” just happened to be ME!).

Surrendering my expectations to God lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I could walk into the “group” (I mean, if two people can be called a group) excited about the study and what God had revealed to my friend during her week. We probably learned more from each other’s insights and experiences then either of us thought possible.

A few months into the group I had the opportunity to share a testimony at a Life Group Leaders meeting our church held. I had “ONE” little testimony to read, but God had more in store as a result.

After the meeting a woman approached me and asked if there was room for “ONE” more (Oh nope, sorry, three is a crowd—NOT). So she started attending the group even though the study was ending soon. She shared some of her struggles and asked us to pray for some of her family members who were struggling with some specific “icky” issues we often addressed in our study. The three of us developed quite a bond through this “doing life” together thing. We now pray for each other on a regular basis and know we can depend on each other for a listening, non-critical/judgmental ear. We have a “safe” place to share what many people may find “taboo” in a Christian environment (after all, Christians shouldn’t be depressed or have anxiety, right?!).

A few weeks after this woman joined our group, one of the Pastors referred another woman to me who needed a listening, non-judgmental ear regarding her “issues”. She ended up coming to the group, even though she was only able to make it to a couple meetings before it ended.  (I’ll share more about her amazing spiritual transformation in a later post, but you won’t want to miss it! It’s powerful!) So, by the end of the semester, our little life group was up to four. Then the summer came and I found out God had some major plans!

Now, we weren’t even meeting in the summer, nor was this group specifically advertised at church—but the church happens to have a website where people can browse through the life groups and read a little paragraph about it to see if it’s something they are interested in. Through this website, a few more ladies contacted me and a few others were referred to the group via word of mouth. I like to think of it as a carefully God-selected group of women called to come together in this special way.

In a matter of two months I went from prayers of, “Lord, only one? Ok, I’ll trust that this “ONE” is exactly what you have planned,” to, “Ok Lord, where am I going to find room for all of these people?!” You see, the Unexpected God came through again with His awe-inspiring blessings.

In just a few weeks our group begins again, this time we have two different meeting dates because there isn’t enough room for all of us in the room we had been using! So we’ve expanded to two days of meeting, and TEN women searching for the same thing: a dynamic and intimate relationship with Christ. Woo! God is GOOOOOD!

So I said all of that to say this: if you’re leading or mentoring just “ONE”, or maybe you write a blog and only “ONE” person reads it, or maybe you work hard to serve but not “ONE” person notices your efforts, then take heart! Maybe God will grow your ministry and maybe not, but either way, the “ONE” He gave to you is the perfect one because He chose it. So embrace it! Every “ONE” is important in God’s kingdom and we really CAN change the world one person at a time. It starts with our own spiritual freedom, and then through building relationships—one at a time—and trusting God with the results. You never know how your influence, testimony, or freedom in Christ could be used to affect the life of another…and another…and another…

…Or, as it was in my case, maybe that “ONE” God wants to transform is actually YOU.