Being Loved to Life—Authentic Christianity

Sarah was in church smiling, conversing with all her church friends. “If they only knew the mess in my life,” she thought every week, “they wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” So she kept pretending, and she was good at it. They all knew Sarah the Good Girl. No one knew Sarah the Alcoholic. No one could get close enough in a few hours on Sunday morning. If anyone offered to hang out for coffee during the week, she’d gladly accept, and then cancel because “something came up.” Don’t want people too close, they might see the real me. If only she could walk a victorious Christian life like her church friends, Rose, Tanya, and Beth. What is wrong with me?

Sarah thought she was the only one. Sarah didn’t know Rose fought depression and wore the same fake smile Sarah did. Sarah didn’t know Tanya suffered from post-abortive stress and was desperately trying to earn love from a God she believed she could never please. Sarah didn’t know Beth was on the verge of having an affair because of the pain from her abusive marriage.

In fact, Sarah had more in common with her church friends than they knew. The one thought all four had in common was, “If they only really knew me, they’d hate me like I hate me.” They all four thought the other three had it all together.

Then one day, quite by accident, the dam broke. Eating donuts in the kitchen before the church service started, Rose whipped out a picture of her day-old grandson. Caught unusually off-guard, Tanya burst into tears before she could get control of herself. Today was the due date of her son, 20 years ago, who was never born. They went out in the hall around the corner to comfort Tanya and get some privacy. As Beth hugged Tanya, Beth’s sleeve was pulled back just enough for Sarah to notice a bruise. As Tanya’s tears wet Beth’s cheek, Beth’s make-up ran just enough for Sarah to see another bruise the make-up was covering.

“OMG,” thought Sarah. “I need a drink.” What is happening here?

The truth was, the Holy Spirit was showing up in their friendship, and it wasn’t pretty. But it was good. The four friends starting meeting for coffee to support each other and share their struggles. They were all shocked at each other’s struggles, not with condemnation or rejection, but because they truly had no idea their friends were in such pain. They all thought they were the only one.

Shame is such a liar. It tells us we are uniquely and fatally flawed. Fatally, because there’s no cure for us, we’ll always be this way, so we’d better hide it the best we can and not let anyone see. And uniquely, because we’re the only one who feels this way. What a pack of lies.

Shame’s lying house of cards is built on a foundation of isolation. It came crashing down that day, when these four church friends shared their pain and fears with each other, all expecting to be rejected, but all finding loving acceptance instead. The four friends received that day the best gift from the Holy Spirit, true loving community. They let Authentic Christianity replace their fake religion, and they could never go back. And all it cost them was the risk of being vulnerable.

Their community didn’t change their situations, but it changed them, and it changed their response to their situations. It gave them something they didn’t have before—hope. They did not have to walk through it alone. And there was a fifth person there in all of their get-togethers—Jesus. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

We receive healing when we let ourselves be loved to life by others in the Body of Christ. So often letting someone else into our struggle is 90% of the victory. Honestly sharing our sin, our pain, our fears, with a few trusted brothers or sisters in the Body of Christ so often breaks the majority of shame’s power.

Everyone doesn’t need to know your secrets, but someone does. Find that trusted person, a brother or sister in the Lord, and break shame’s isolating hold on you by confiding in them. We all desperately want to be known, and at the same time are terrified of being known. We hide with all our might, desperately longing to be found.

When the masks and methods we’ve used to hide stop working, and things are crashing around us, often it’s the Holy Spirit doing that, because he’s exposing something he desperately wants to heal. God is for us. We don’t have to earn his love, we already have it.

How about you? Does this resonate? Do you have a safe Christian community? We’d love to hear your story. Have you been loved to life? I have. And please share this if you think this would bless someone else.

What I’m Learning about God’s Rest

I’ve been sharing all year my journey of discovering how to honor the Sabbath and enter into God’s rest. Not that those are both the same thing, but they are related.

True rest, God’s rest, is not the absence of work. Regarding the Sabbath, Jesus told the Pharisees, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).

So it’s not a legalistic thing. I used to hate talking about the Sabbath because I thought it was. I thought if I wasn’t bored all day that I wasn’t honoring the Sabbath. Not true.

God’s rest is not the absence of work. God’s rest is doing the right work, the stuff God has for you. Jesus did only what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19).

And it’s not just doing the right work. You can do the right work and still choose to be stressed out over it. God’s rest is also trusting him for its success. That takes the pressure off! That doesn’t mean we do a sloppy job, we still pursue excellence and do the best we can. But we’re not stressing over the success because it doesn’t depend on us. That is so totally freeing!

There’s a huge difference between pursuing excellence and pursuing perfectionism. I know from experience there’s no rest in pursuing perfectionism. And I bet you do, too.

This is fast becoming one of my favorite verses:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. – Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

The unforced rhythms of grace. I love that!

So here’s what God’s been teaching me about entering into his rest and learning the unforced rhythms of grace in my life.

I’m keeping the Sabbath by not using it to do any recurring tasks. Like our weekly blog. Like paying bills. I can do one-off tasks, things that need doing around the house or on the website. But I’ve been intentionally avoiding recurring tasks.

And it’s been wonderful! I’ve been feeling refreshed instead of exhausted. After finishing any one-off tasks I’ve had to do Sunday, I’ve had time to do things that feed my soul. Like reading for a couple hours in the evening with Janet. We both read different things, but being together and just reading is tremendously refreshing. And I feel God smile.

This is just personally what God’s been teaching me. I’m not recommending it for anybody else. And I know I’ve more to learn.

What are you learning? What is God teaching you about entering into the unforced rhythms of grace? We’d love to hear from you, and what you’re learning will bless the rest of our community. So please leave a comment and share on social media if you think this would bless someone else.

Why Denominations Are a Good Thing

“Silly Catholics, don’t they know he’s not on that cross anymore?” I smugly thought to myself, when I noticed the crucifix up on the wall. I had just gotten to the room that would be my home for the next week. About 2005 or so, I took time off from work and went to a monastery to fast and pray for a week. It was an incredible time of closeness to God, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I had just gotten to my room, noticed the crucifix on the wall, and my protestant pride was showing. You see, we protestants use empty crosses, to emphasize Jesus’ resurrection. I thought my theological superiority was a no-brainer, but the Holy Spirit rebuked me sharply with three words.

“Don’t do that,” he said in my thoughts in his loving, but firm, way. He wasn’t being mean or anything, but he wasn’t going to stand for it. Over the years I’ve learned to discern the Holy Spirit’s voice, and this was definitely him.

I was shocked. “What are you talking about, Lord?”

Then the Holy Spirit gave me a download about denominations. The movie The Passion of the Christ had just come out. I loved that movie for a couple reasons. First, Hollywood refused to make it, and Mel Gibson had to go to Italy to make it with the Italian film industry. But most of all, I knew several back-slidden Christians who re-dedicated their lives to the Lord directly because of that movie, watching what Jesus went through for them. And it was an incredibly well-done, historically and spiritually accurate movie, IMHO.

The Holy Spirit told me, “Protestants could not have made that movie. You do not understand my suffering at the level that the Catholics do. Yes, you understand it, but I have given the Catholics a much deeper understanding of it than I’ve given Protestants. In the same way, I’ve given Protestants a deeper understanding of my resurrection than I’ve given to Catholics. They understand the resurrection too, but I’ve given you Protestants a deeper understanding of it.

“You see, Dave, I’m infinite. I am too big to be completely understood by any single group of finite human beings. So I’ve revealed different parts of myself more deeply to different denominations. You need to spend your time learning from each other, from the things they understand about me that you do not, rather than bickering with each other about what you understand that they do not.”

Wow. That rocked my world. I repented for my judgements in my heart toward Catholics, and even toward other Protestant denominations I have differences with.

Since then, regardless of what theological differences I have with certain groups, when I’m with them, I try to find what they understand about God that I don’t. And learn from them. I’m coming to appreciate crucifixes.

Now certainly there are a certain set of core beliefs, “the main and plain,” that you really can’t call yourself “Christian” without adhering to. Janet and my list is at the bottom of our About Us page. I’m taking it granted here we all agree on those basic tenants of Christianity.

But beyond that, I don’t think theological differences are necessarily a bad thing, as long as they don’t cause us to judge or break fellowship with each other. We can agree to disagree about certain things and that’s ok. But if we’re going to fellowship with each other side-by-side in heaven, why can’t we do so now?

One thing we love about volunteering at our local pro-life crisis pregnancy center is all the different people from all different denominations coming together in unity around a common mission—saving and transforming lives. It’s a reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

What do you think? Have you had experiences where other denominations blessed you when you weren’t expecting it? We’d love to hear that story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share if you think this would bless someone else.

How to Talk to Your Heart

We often have this false idea in the Western world that the battle’s all in the mind, that it’s all about how we think. If that were true, why do people smoke, do drugs, drink excessively, eat excessively, and do all sorts of things they know is bad for them? There must be something else going on.

The problems in our mind often lead to bad fruit, but the root of our problems is often not in our mind at all, but in our heart.

So often in the church we minister to people’s behavior, because that’s the low-hanging, bad fruit. It’s visible. It’s obvious. It’s clearly a problem. But that just leads to sin management, not real transformation. We have to minister to the root.

The root is often at the heart. In Western culture, in our arrogance, we’ve exalted our intellect at the expense of our heart. Yes, our thoughts are important, and we want to develop the skill of taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). There is a battle in the mind for sure. But that’s the effect, not the cause. The foundational battle is in the heart, and often it shapes our behavior and our thinking more than our mind does.

Jesus agrees with me. He says in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

You catch that? Those are all behavioral problems he just mentioned, and he didn’t say they came from bad theology or wrong thinking. They come from the heart. The bad theology and wrong thinking is just our brain rationalizing what’s already in our heart.

And again, Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Jesus thought the heart was pretty important.

Ever have a mile’s worth of negative reaction over an inch of offense? Ever been like, “Where’d that come from?” And then we’re all embarrassed and ashamed because we reacted so strongly when we know that strong of a reaction wasn’t merited? I’ve done that, been there, got the tee-shirt. That’s a clue there’s a heart issue going on.

Often when we’re hurting, or addressing bad fruit in our lives, the most important conversation we can have is with our heart. We have so played-down our hearts and dishonored our hearts, while they are so wounded. A good way to start healing is to honor our heart by learning to listen to it.

So how do you talk to your heart? It may look different for you, but this is how I do it. I ask these four questions:

  1. Heart, why are you hurting, what wounded you?
  2. Heart, how did that make you feel?
  3. Heart, what did you come to believe? About yourself? Others? God?
  4. Ok, Heart, then what did you vow to protect yourself?

I put my hand over my heart, just because it helps me focus. Then I say (preferably out loud if I’m in a safe space like my car or some other private place), “Heart, why are you afraid?” or “Heart, why are you hurting?” And then I listen.

This is listening, so you have to protect the quiet. My brain, always trying to help, jumps in with all sorts of answers, “because of this,” or “because of that.” I have to tell my brain, “Shut up, I’m not talking to you.” Then I go back to quiet, listening to my heart.

Sometimes answers are immediate, but sometimes I have to wait anywhere between a few minutes or a few days. Sometimes even a few weeks, but I keep asking. It’s not that my heart’s not answering, it’s that I’m hard-of-heart-hearing. Sometimes it’s hard for me to hear my heart. For some of us, this is a completely foreign concept.

To talk to our heart, we have to unlearn a bunch of stuff we’ve learned. Like, “all meaning can be expressed in words.” Not! Our heart learned to talk a long time before our brain did. And when our heart learned to talk, we didn’t have verbal language yet. That’s why 90% of all communication is non-verbal. It’s heart-speak.

So our heart doesn’t always talk in words. Sometimes a memory will pop up. Your heart is telling you the answer is because “this” happened.

Our brain can help if we train it to. For example, I’ve dealt at various times with different levels of self-hatred. I had a very good Christian childhood and my parents loved me. And my siblings, two brothers 10 years older than me, also loved me and were very good to me. I had no trauma growing up. But because of a deep-rooted self-hatred I didn’t even know was there, I made some poor choices in my life because I didn’t think I deserved any better. So I recently was trying to figure out where that came from.

So I asked my heart, “Heart, what’s your wound?” Crickets. I was having trouble hearing my heart. That’s not a question it necessarily wants to answer, and hearing your heart is hard anyway. So I let my brain help, giving my heart a multiple-choice question instead of an essay question.

“I was bullied.” Nothing. Nope that’s not it.

“My parents weren’t proud of me.” Nothing. I know that’s not true, that lie has no power over me.

“I was a mistake.” Sudden strong emotion! Where’d that come from? I had to fight back an audible cry in the car. Bingo! That’s the wound. My two brothers were 10 years older than me, and I thought I was a mistake.

Now I was onto something. So I probed deeper, and now the answers came quickly. “Heart, how did that make you feel?” Unloved.

“Heart, what did you come to believe?” No one will love me.

“Heart, what did you vow to protect yourself?” I will make everyone happy so they love me.

That explains so much! My mom told me as a baby I’d cackle or coo or do whatever made the person holding me smile.

My dad told me, as a 2-year old, they only had to tell me once to not touch the expensive figurines on the coffee table, and I wouldn’t. He said he’d never seen another child like me.

These sound like good things, but they were a child trying to earn love because he believed a foundational lie. It lead to some bad choices later on.

Since I’ve learned what the wound was, what the foundational lie was, it’s been much easier to deal with. Now when I have thoughts of self-hatred, I call out the lie and replace it with God’s truth. “No, I’m not a mistake. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (That’s Psalm 139:14, BTW. If you struggle with self-hatred, internalize Psalm 139. It’s the anti-self-hatred psalm.)

So what about you? Talk to your heart lately? Do you need to? Try this out and let us know how it goes in comments or shoot us email. We’d really love to hear from you. And please share this if you think it would help someone else.

How to Make Our Churches the Safest Places on Earth without Compromising

At 17, Jennifer was the poster child of a Christian teen-ager. She was the model for her church youth group. As the Pastor’s daughter in a conservative church body, she lead the meeting many times. She was also secretly pregnant, a fact she couldn’t hide much longer.

Everyone looked up to her. On the outside, she was the perfect, evangelical Christian teen. Everyone wanted their kid to be just like Jennifer. She knew all the right New Testament answers, always knowing what to say and how to act.

On the inside, though, she was crumbling under the pressure. She longed for her daddy to be proud of her, and though he said it many times, her wounded heart didn’t hear it. She couldn’t articulate it, but her spirit felt dirty from being molested by a neighbor when she was 5, something no one, not even her, knew happened. The repressed memory hid the trauma, invoked as a defense mechanism by a child to survive.

In one world, she struggled to be good enough, desperately hoping the good she did would overpower how dirty she felt inside. In another world, she traded sex to hear a boy say he loved her, trusting the wrong messiah to make everything safe and ok. And for a few precious moments when they were alone it would work. Or at least it briefly felt like it did.

When she missed her period, and the home pregnancy test showed a “+”, she realized those two worlds were about to collide, and she felt crushed in the middle. Her perfect world of pretend at church was about to come crashing down in a fiery ball of reality. The disappointment of her family. The damage to her father’s reputation as a pastor. The disapproving glances from former friends and elders at church who would be barely polite behind thin smiles. The overwhelming shame. She felt the crushing weight of it all before it happened. There was no escape. Or was there?

This is the profile of the clients we see at our local crisis pregnancy center who break my heart the most. Pro-life clients for whom the shame, scorn, and rejection they would face at church is worse than having an abortion.

Think it doesn’t happen? I personally know a pastor’s daughter who, when she made her secret abortion public and repented, was told by her mentor, “If you ever come back to this church again, my foot will be the one holding the door closed the hardest.” This breaks my heart. Does it break yours?

Of the one in four women in the US who have had an abortion, 70% identify as Christians and regular church attenders.

It’s been said the church is the only army who shoots its own wounded.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I am not down on the church. I love the Body of Christ. This website exists because we’re passionate about seeing the Body of Christ walking in healing and wholeness and the fullness of our true identity.

And yes, holiness and purity are important. It’s hard to have intimacy with Jesus for long without them. I wrote a book on the subject (True Self: Sexual Integrity out of Intimacy with Jesus).

But it has to be ok to be wounded in church. If a fallen believer can’t go to church, where can they go?

Churches should be the safest places on the planet for someone experiencing a crisis. And many churches are. But some are far from it.

Jesus accepted the woman caught in adultery, prostitutes, tax collectors, what that culture considered the worst of the worst. But I’m no better. I’m the worst of the worst. We all are. We all need a Savior. So why can’t we have Jesus’ compassion for those looking for one?

Ok, I get that we don’t expect people to check their sin at the door. But if someone’s living a blatantly sinful life style, how long do we wait before addressing the sin in their life?

Honestly, I’ve no idea. That’s not my problem. That’s the Pastor’s problem. He gets to deal with that according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit for that person. My problem is making sure I love them the way Jesus loves me. Maybe the Holy Spirit will prompt me to say something to them about their lifestyle, at some point. But it’ll most likely be after we have a relationship, and in a way that convicts not condemns, leaving them feeling accepted and loved, not rejected.

I know we can do this. That’s the church’s job, after all, to love as we’ve been loved. To be Jesus’ loving arms of acceptance and forgiveness.

So how do we do this? Can the Church really be the safest place on earth without compromising? Yes we can. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit in us to make us into all we are called to be.

So here’s how. We decide to be safe. The church will be the safest place on earth when we decide to be the safest people on earth. This decision affirms some obvious truths we so often forget.

Action Step: I decide the following:

  • Acknowledging my judgement of others often reflects my own fear, and
  • Acknowledging this is not my church, this God’s church, I will not reject who he brings in.
  • I decide to let the pastor deal with the person’s lifestyle and sin, That’s the Pastor’s job, not mine.
  • I decide to love them as they are, like Jesus loves us. That’s my job.
  • I decide to speak life into their lives, when prompted by the Holy Spirit. I pledge to do so lovingly, wrapped in encouragement and acceptance.

What do you think? Will you make this decision to be a safe person with me? Would this make a difference in the world?

Have you experienced Jesus’ loving forgiveness through your local church? On the giving or the receiving end? Or not? Tell us about it in the comments, and please share if you think this post would inspire someone else.

Generosity Trademarks the Kingdom of God

Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to the wind: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) His point was that, just like the wind, you can’t physically see the Kingdom of God, but you can see its effects. You can see the marks of where it’s been. I believe generosity is one of the key marks of the Kingdom of God.

As Christians, we should be the most generous people on the planet.

As Americans, as a country, we probably are. I don’t have exact figures (or any figures) in front of me, but I know our government, which is becoming less and less Christian all the time, still gives away billions of dollars in foreign aid every year. America is one of the most, if not the most, generous countries on the planet. This is the mark of a country that was founded on Kingdom of God principles.

And it’s not just the government. Some of the most effective aid organizations in the world were founded by and are run by American private citizens. Crisis Response International (my personal favorite), Not for Sale, Mercy Ships, Goodwill, The United Way, just to name a few, are amazingly effective charitable organizations providing help across the world where it’s needed most. They provide dollars, medical supplies and services, food, rescue, and labor for rebuilding after disasters (not to mention the Gospel). They have their roots in the Kingdom of God and their generosity is making lasting impacts around the world.

That’s great, but what about the rest of us? Can we be generous right here at home, every day?

I think we can. For example, waiters and waitresses should be fighting to work Sunday afternoons, when the Christians come for lunch after church. We should be the biggest tippers on the planet. (If you’re in the restaurant industry, please leave a comment about whether this is so or not.) A standard tip is 18%. I tip at least 20%, honestly because the math is easier, not because I’m being generous. I compute 10% in my head by moving the bill’s decimal point, double it, and round up. I’m working on tipping 30%, because I want to be generous. It’s hard though, because it gets expensive. Generosity is sacrificial, that’s why it marks the presence of the Kingdom of God.

Janet and I recently experienced an amazing weekend of generosity. We went to a writer’s conference, Tribe Conference 2017, in Franklin, TN, just south of Nashville, that exemplified this concept. Tribe Writers is a program founded and run by best-selling author Jeff Goins that teaches creatives how to get their message out there (and make a living at it) in this amazing new digital renaissance we’re living in. This was the first time Janet and I attended the annual conference.

What an amazing experience! I’ve been to lots of professional and personal conferences, and I can honestly say Tribe Conference 2017 was the most generous conference I have ever been to.

Every single speaker (and breakout session leader) gave away something of value. Not just run-of-the-will lead-magnets that you expect to give away, but premium products either free or at significant discounts. Some made exclusive content just for the conference attendees on hidden pages on their websites. Their generosity was really overwhelming.

Mr. Goins brought a young writer, Natalie Brenner, on the stage to tell the story of getting her book, This Undeserved Life, published. It’s her story about how God shows up in the middle of grief. Her book gives Christians permission to grieve, which is really important because unfortunately I know stories when the church has not.

The book just recently came out, and she’d sold a few hundred copies. Mr. Goins asked everyone there to buy her book, on the spot, which practically all of us did (Janet and I bought two). He doubled her book sales in 60 seconds, and put her on track to becoming a best-selling author. It was definitely a class act. He didn’t have to do that. She certainly didn’t expect it and was floored. It was a blessing to watch the effects of unexpected generosity.

(Yes, the link he gave us to buy the book was an affiliate link, meaning he got a small commission. But those proceeds were used to buy Natalie’s book for anyone in the room who couldn’t afford it, so he funneled it back into book sales for her.)

This was not a Christian conference. It was about writing, marketing, and platform building. But the generosity of the team, the speakers, Mr. Goins himself, and the attendees during the conference was unbelievable. Everyone, speakers and attendees, would stop to give you personal help on wherever you were stuck—the technology, the writing, whatever. Although not overtly Christian, it was obvious that many are Christians, because their generosity overflowed. The mark of the Kingdom of God.

Disclaimer: Janet and I are in the Tribe Writers Pro program, a mastermind group that has helped us significantly in building our platform. However, none of the links in this post are affiliate links. We’re getting no monetary value from telling you about Tribe 2017. It’s just our most recent example of seeing unexpected generosity in action. It was really an amazing experience seeing Kingdom of God principles play out in the marketplace.

The big take-away here is this. Their over-the-top generosity made us want to go again next year. We were proud to be part of such a giving community. Everyone wants to hang out with generous people. Generosity makes the gospel attractive. People may argue with your theology, but they can’t argue with the help or the undeserved kindness you’ve given them. It’s why Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Generosity is love with skin on it.

What about you? Have you benefitted from extreme generosity? Have you given it? How can we be generous in the everyday stuff? Tell us the story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share on social media if you think this post would bless someone else.

What to Do when the Pain Won’t Go Away

None of us want to admit it, but we all have it. Or have had it at some point. Emotional pain that just won’t go away. Sometimes we think we’ve stuffed it, but then – bam – something seemingly innocent happens and it all comes crashing back.

Daniel was so past his divorce. He’d made his peace with it. Until he went to his nephew’s wedding. Emotions he thought were long gone were really only hiding. They rose up and slammed him out of nowhere. He drank way too much at the reception. And every night after that.

Melanie was over her abortion, or so she thought. No one knew, and she’d moved on. Until her best friend invited her to her baby shower. And it all came crashing back. She went and put on a happy face. No one knew she was dying inside. But she was.

Sometimes we can’t even begin to stuff it, and we just learn to live with it. Or better put, survive with it.

Lisa cannot remember a time when she wasn’t battling depression. She lives in a box, behind a mask, trying desperately to keep the outside world at bay, to stay in control. Where is the joy all the other Christians have? Are they just faking it, too? Or is there something wrong with her? She suspects the latter. She desperately hopes this next relationship will fix it all. Again.

Somehow we learn to cope. Maybe we self-medicate. Maybe we control. Sometimes we put on a face and pretend, hiding the real me. We’ve coped with it for so long we think it’s normal. But it’s not. Although it’s very common, just coping forever is not healthy.

God has something for us so much better than coping. He has a new-normal for us, without the pain. It’s called healing. But how do we embrace it? How do we move into that place?

The short answer is, Be the buffalo not the cow. Dude, what are you even talking about? What to bovines have to do with deep emotional pain? I’m glad you asked.

When there’s a thunderstorm on the plain, buffalo and cattle both panic. Both herds stampede, and you don’t want to be in the way! But there’s a major difference.

Cattle take off running away from the storm as fast as they can. If the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede east. This is the obvious, no-brainer thing to do to avoid the storm. The problem is, they’re running the same direction as the storm’s moving, and the storm always moves faster. So it eventually overtakes them anyway. And since they’re running the direction it’s moving, they actual maximize their time in the storm.

On the other hand, buffalo run straight at the thunderstorm. So if the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede west, right into it. This seems really dumb at first glance, but it’s actually brilliant. Since they’re running the opposite direction the storm is moving, they minimize their time in the storm. And they get rewarded with the yummy, just watered, fresh grass on the other side. Bonus!

Most of us run from our pain, like cattle running from a thunderstorm. But avoidance just maximizes our time in the pain when it catches up with us, and it always does.

John Sanford, founder of Elijah House Ministries said, “We need to embrace the fireball of pain.Wow. Seriously, dude? Yeah, seriously. We need to go where it hurts, not avoid it.

Ok, you sold me. How do we “embrace the fireball of pain?”

I’m glad you asked. There’s 3 steps to start this process.

1) Start the journey with God.

Be honest. Don’t hide it or pretend it’s not there. Honestly tell God how you feel. It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to not feel joy. Read the Psalms. Many of them are written from places of extreme pain. They are examples of God meeting people in the middle of extremely painful circumstance, doubt and fear. For a start, look at Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 17, 22, 28, 40, 120, and many, many more.

What gets scheduled gets done, so schedule time to pray and meditate each day with God, even if it’s just 10 minutes during a break. Stopping, unplugging, and getting alone with him, even if just for a few minutes, makes a huge difference.

2) Start the journey with someone else.

You don’t need to tell everyone everything. But you need to tell someone everything. So often the pain’s power over us is rooted in shame. Shame protects itself by isolating us. We think we’re the only one. But we’re not. Often, sharing our pain with someone else breaks the shame and that’s 80% of the healing right there.

So often we the church do such a disservice to people by forcing them to either hide their pain or face our rejection. I know someone who, in a vulnerable moment, shared the pain in their life. They were actually told by their Bible study leader at church, “Well, Christians are supposed to be joyful, so if you’re not feeling joy, are you even saved?”

What rubbish! Jesus does not deliver us from pain, he delivers us through it. He never promised we wouldn’t have trouble in this world (in fact just the opposite, see John 16:33). He promised us he’d be there with us in the middle of it. So we should be there for each other.

If your church shames you for having pain in your life, find a different church. There are many churches out there that get this right. Find someone you trust that you can share your journey with, and who is willing to share theirs with you. You’ll find that, no matter how perfect they look, they have pain in their life, too.

3) Recognize the season.

Healing is a season, it doesn’t happen overnight. The season can be weeks, months, years, or even decades.

Sometimes, for whatever reason he alone knows, God doesn’t heal at all. I know some very strong Christians, men and women of deep intimacy with the Lord, faith and power, who have battled depression their whole life. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them or their faith. It means God is choosing to use that for his glory in their lives (see John 9:3). He is meeting them right there in the middle of it, just like he did the Apostle Paul, who, by the way, he also didn’t heal (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). So if this is you, you’re in good company.

I can’t promise God will eventually heal your situation. Often he totally does. But I can promise God is always good, and will meet you in the middle of it.

Personally, a moment of vulnerability here, I still struggle with self-hatred. But I’m getting stronger and it’s a lot weaker than it used to be. I’m learning how to not agree with it and instead agree with what God says about me. Jesus has been my deliverer in the middle of it. And continues to be.

So what about you? Where do you come down in all this? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share if you think this would bless someone else.

Why Your Negative Past Is Key to Your Awesome Future

Have you ever been paralyzed by your past? Have you ever wanted to do something that made your heart leap, but then dropped the idea because your past disqualified you? Maybe you were an addict or had an affair. Maybe it was an abortion or divorce. Fill in the blank for you.

The truth is, not only can God forgive and heal your past, but your past is actually key to God’s calling on your life. There are two important points here.

First, our past doesn’t derail God’s calling on our life.

But we can derail ourselves. Sometimes we sabotage our own destiny.

“I can’t write that book because I dropped out of college!”

“I can’t lead a marriage Bible study because I’m divorced!”

Sometimes our sabotage is subtle, unconscious, and just under the surface:

“I don’t deserve a healthy relationship after what I’ve done!”

But the good news is our past does not disqualify us from our future for one big reason. That’s not how God sees us. Check out this story.

Ok, so we’re in Damascus, first decade AD. A Christian named Ananias is out watering sheep, or doing whatever they did back then, when God shows up in a vision and calls him by name.

Ananias thinks this is awesome, until Jesus says, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He’s praying and I’ve given him a vision of you restoring his sight.”

Now Ananias thinks, “Snap, not so awesome.” He answers, “Lord, I saw this dude on Jerusalem Today. He was going house-to-house, dragging off Christians and throwing them in prison! And he’s come here to do the same thing! Look, I’ll show you on my iPhone. I’ve got it on YouTube right here.”

Ok, now this is where it gets interesting. Here’s what the Lord never said:

  • “Wow, I hadn’t heard that! I guess I picked the wrong guy. Must be a mix-up in the front office.”
  • “Thanks, Ananias, you really saved me from a big blooper there!”
  • “I sure am glad you’re on my team, Ananias! Way to be on the ball!”

Nope. Instead, the Lord gets a little testy with Ananias: “Go! Don’t you be talkin’ ‘bout my servant like that! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their Kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Ok, I took some creative license here, but you can read the real story in Acts 8:3 and 9:1-19.

Here’s the thing: Everything Ananias said about Saul was completely true. And the Lord completely ignored it. Instead of arguing with Ananias over Earth’s truth about Saul, the Lord responded with Heaven’s truth about Saul. “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their Kings and before the people of Israel.”

Earth’s truth defines us by what we’ve done. But Heaven’s truth defines us by our calling, and that’s how God sees us. Heaven’s truth trumps earth’s truth every time, which is why your past doesn’t disqualify you. You are not what you’ve done.

When we agree with Heaven’s truth, admit the wrongs in our past, and turn from them so we don’t practice them anymore, like Saul did, that’s called repentance. Repentance totally blows our past away so it has no more power over us.

Second, our past is key to God’s calling on our life.

Back to Saul, soon to be the Apostle Paul. God knew the most challenging controversy in the first century church would be the confusion over whether Gentile converts had to be circumcised and keep the whole Law of Moses or not. There were some very persuasive Pharisees who became Christians and insisted they did. God felt otherwise, but who could stand up to the legalistic and opinionated Pharisees and logically make God’s point to the contrary? Certainly not some uneducated fishermen who could barely read or write!

What God needed was somebody who was himself circumcised on the eighth day, a Hebrew of Hebrews, somebody zealous for the Law who knew it as well as or better than the Pharisees causing all the trouble. If fact, God needed an ex-Pharisee.

Enter the Apostle Paul. He’s wasn’t just an ex-Pharisee, but an exceptional one. He studied under Gamaliel, the greatest Rabbi of that day. He excelled way beyond his peers and was extremely zealous (Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:4-6). Paul could run circles around the other Pharisees with the Law. He was perfect. Paul’s past was key to God’s calling on his life.

After we repent and go through a season of healing, like Paul did, our past can be key to our future. We have authority over what we’ve been rescued from.

Dropped out of college? You’ve acquired real-life wisdom that makes you perfect to write that book.

Been divorced? You’re perfect to lead that marriage Bible study. You know where the traps and pitfalls are.

Had an affair or abortion? You’re perfect to lead others through the healing you’ve received. You know the pain they’re feeling.

And when you set others free from what you’ve been set free from, that’s revenge. Sweet revenge. Make the enemy sorry he ever messed with you! Make the devil need therapy! Woof!

So what’s Heaven’s truth about you? The Lord has a mission for you. Do you know what it is? It’s connected to your past. You are his chosen instrument for, what? Fill in the blank for you. What’s the passion that rises up in your heart when you think about it. Your past does not disqualify you from it. Your past is actually key to it.

Does this possibility make your heart leap? Does it resonate? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share on social media if you think this would help or inspire someone else.

[Note: This post was inspired by Graham Cooke’s Living Your Truest Identity 3-CD audio series. I highly recommend it. This is not an affiliate link; we get no commission if you click the link or buy from Graham.]

Wonderfully Disruptive Spiritual Technology

I have a friend who had a dream. People were standing in lines waiting to go somewhere, or get into something. Many lines, straight and orderly. Very polite, very systematic. But then some people came along who created quite a disturbance by pulling people out of the lines. They were very adamant about convincing people to get out of the lines. It really upset the systematic flow of things, and made many people in the lines very angry.

The people causing the disturbance were Christians. Because at the front of the lines, where everyone in line was waiting to get to, were demons throwing people off a cliff into hell. Some Christians were snatching people out of the demon’s hands as they were throwing them over the cliff. Some Christians were even diving off the cliff after people. The Christians were creating quite a disruption to the nice, neat system. They broke it.

The Kingdom of God is like that. It’s disruptive. It upsets the apple cart wherever it goes.

Remember when AOL owned the Internet? We’d all sit for 5 minutes waiting to get online, listening to modem tones, and were happy if the program didn’t have to redial. AOL was the best dial-up Internet service provider in the world. They owned it. Nothing could de-throne them. Except a different technology. DSL and then cable came along, and AOL was dead in a few years.

Remember when we all had landline phones in our houses? I grew up with an egg timer next to the house phone, so we could limit long-distance calls to 3 minutes. Then came cell phones. Now most people no longer have landlines, and many young adults don’t know what “long-distance” even means.

How about TV? ABC, NBC, and CBS used to be the kings. Now they’re all paupers vying for crumbs from the tables of Netflix and Apple TV. New technology changes everything.

Look at how Amazon’s revolutionizing the retail markets. They’ve crushed the brick ‘n’ mortar bookstores and other retail markets. Cyber-Monday is majorly eclipsing Black Friday. And now they’re going after supermarkets. Enjoy Giant and Safeway while you can—here comes Amazon Fresh.

None of that is bad. It’s actually hugely better. I, for one, don’t miss modem tones one little bit. I love my iPhone. And I’m looking forward to Amazon Fresh delivering my groceries to my door in a few years with a drone. It’s just what happens naturally when new technology changes everything.

The Kingdom of God is like that. It changes everything wherever it goes. The old spiritual technology is called religion. The new, disruptive spiritual technology is the Kingdom of God. It overturns the religious apple cart wherever it goes. Literally. Jesus actually physically flipped over the religious tables in the temple (see John 2:13-16 and Matthew 21:12-13).

If you dare to believe Jesus and chase the passion he’s put on your heart, it will change everything. People will think you’re crazy, but you’ll be in God’s immediate family (Matthew 12:46-50). You’ll find yourself in a perfect storm, but Jesus calms the storm (Mark 4:35-39). You’ll get attacked by poisonous snakes, we all know them, but they will have no power over you (Acts 28:3-6). A thousand will fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it won’t come near you (Psalm 91:7). Quite the adventure!

I am transitioning from a very stable, 30-year career as a successful software engineer to a risky future as an author, blogger, life coach, and online content provider. Am I nuts or what? But I can’t let go of this passion to share with the world the healing God’s given me.

How about you? How has God disrupted your life? Share it with us in the comments or an email. And if you think this would bless or challenge someone else, please share it on social media (convenience buttons below).

…And Then God Showed Up

Story time again! We often romanticize the prophets and the heroes of the Bible, making them larger than life. But the Bible says they were people just like us (James 5:17). Flawed people. Unworthy people. Hurting people. Just like us. Just like me. Just like you. Here’s a dramatization I hope blesses you that puts some skin on this idea that God calls the people you or I wouldn’t have chosen. Even us.

 

Izzy was having a bad day. It wasn’t easy running a household in 8th century BC. He’d just had to fire his “best” servants for covertly fleecing him and his sheep. Then he discovered one of his cows had bloated and died in the field overnight—what a mess. Then it started to rain. He had to walk a mile back to his tent in the pouring rain, slipping often in the mud. He was looking forward to changing robes into his favorite comfy wool robe—it would feel so good on this cold, wet day. 

He finally got back inside his tent, just in time to see his 5-year-old son playing swords with a burning fire brand. “What are you doing?!?” Izzy screamed at his son. When he heard his father yell, the boy started, and dropped the fire brand. Right onto a pile of laundry. Right onto Izzy’s favorite comfy wool robe he’d been looking forward to wearing for that whole last, wet mile.

“Are you trying to burn the whole tent down?!? How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t play with fire in the tent! What do I always say? What’s the worst thing that can happen in a tent?” he demanded of his son as he stamped the fire out.

“A fire,” his son responded, in a very small voice. “I’m sorry, daddy!” He started to cry.

“Yes, a fire! And what do you do? Start a fire! And why? So you could play! You burn down our whole tent, everything I’ve worked so hard for, but, hey, you had fun, so what the heck?!?” Izzy was way out of control, yelling at his son like this, and he knew it. But he didn’t care. Shooting off his mouth, swearing and ranting was how he dealt with stress, and this had been a very stressful morning. And besides, they were just words. So what?

His wife came in at that moment. “Oh, sweetheart, what’s the matter?” she said as she scooped up the boy and comforted him.

“Where were you? Our son almost burns the tent down, and where were you?!?”

“Making your meal. Your favorite hot lentil soup is ready,” she answered Izzy. Then she said to their son, “It’s alright now, honey.  But you learned something today, huh?” The boy nodded vigorously. “Now go run along play with something that’s not burning, ok?” she laughed.

Her total acceptance and love of him made it all better. He hugged her neck and ran off to find something to play with that wasn’t smoking.

“Look at this! Just look at this!” Izzy wailed, holding up his favorite comfy wool robe. It had a hole in it two feet in diameter. “Ruined!! Scrabble!” he swore.

“Had a tough morning?” she asked lovingly. “You look terrible.”

“I had to fire freakin’ Jonus this morning! And a gal-darn cow bloated in the field last night! Dag-nab-it, do you have any idea how much wealth I’ve lost today?!? No, you wouldn’t…”

“Please don’t be hurtful,” she asked, ignoring yet another insult. She saw something in this rough, brash man that no one else could. The Lord had shown her years ago that He was going to unlock her husband’s heart. Early this morning He had told her today was the day. She had gotten up two hours early to pray for him. She was ready; she couldn’t take much more of this.

“Why do I even talk to you?” was the kindest, more correctly, the least cruel, thing he could find to say. He hated himself for it. While they were talking he had changed into something dry. “Stupid woman. Stupid kid. Stupid cow.  Stupid servants. Stupid rain,” he complained at the air as he wandered off to eat his lentil soup. It would probably be cold by now.

He hated his wife for the same reason he loved her. Everything could be a mess, their whole life upside-down, and she’d find something to laugh about. He hated it. It was really, really annoying when you were trying to have a bad day. And yet he loved it. It warmed him inside. But he couldn’t tell her.

Not for lack of trying, though. His words were just dark and heavy and vile and… and… well, just unclean. But so what? They were just words. He’d told himself that enough times he almost believed it. Almost. At least he pretended he believed it.

“Isaiah.” Someone said his real name. And it was the freakiest voice he had ever heard. It sounded like a giant water fall making words. He spun around and the tent was gone, or it wasn’t, he didn’t know, care, or even think about it. All he could do was focus, fixated, on what he saw in front of him. Oh snap I am undone, was his only thought.

In front of him he saw something language does not have words to describe. He saw the Lord, high and lifted up on a throne, with the train of his robe filling the temple. The Lord was blazing white with every color all at once, yet every color individually distinguishable and always changing. When the colors shined on him, a different part of him sprang to life with each different color and pattern and shade and hue. The colors were living fabric, and each one reflecting a different attribute of the character of God. The patterns and colors were never the same, they were constantly changing. Yet the Lord Himself was totally constant—as if He wasn’t changing per se but just displaying a different part of himself at each moment.

There were angels flying about. Each time the colors changed, they would sing to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory!” As if they’d just seen another attribute of God they’d never known about before. As if they’d been staring at him for all eternity, and every moment they were still seeing new parts of his character that blew their minds. And all they could do was respond, “Holy, Holy, Holy,…” At the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook and the whole temple was filled with smoke.

Isaiah took in all this in a moment. Sound involuntarily came from his mouth. “Woe to me!” he cried aloud in terror. “I am undone! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!” They weren’t just words. They mattered. How could he possibly have thought any differently. Oh, no, the pain he’d caused by his words to the precious ones he loved. He saw himself for the first time.

Quick as lightening, one of the angels flew to the altar, grabbed a burning coal with tongs, flew over to Isaiah, and touched his mouth with it. He screamed and quickly touched the place where he was sure his lips had just burned off. Only his mouth was fine. In fact, it felt… well, free! As if, for the first time, he didn’t have to say something ugly. He could choose, for the first time, to speak either death or life.

“See, this has touched your lips,” the angel told him, holding up the burning coal with the tongs. “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” And then the freakiest thing happened. The angel smiled at Isaiah.

At that moment the Lord spoke from his throne. “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

Before Isaiah knew what he was doing, before his head could catch up, he answered from his heart, “Here I am! Send me!”

The Lord smiled and nodded. “Very well then. Go to this people, and tell them…”

And the Lord gave Isaiah a message to speak to the people of Judah in His name. It was the first of many prophetic messages Isaiah was given to speak for God.

The vision faded but not the change. He was back in his tent, eating his lentil soup that was still hot. How had he gotten to the table with the spoon in his hand? He looked very disoriented. His wife and son were looking at him strangely. “Izzy? Are you all right?” she asked. “You zoned out for a moment there. You look like you’ve been to another planet. 

“You have no idea,” was he all he could say, and then he started to cry. Something he had never done in front of them before. He felt pain, but not just because he was hurting or feeling guilty like always. This was different. He felt their pain; the pain he caused. And he was sorry for their sake, not for his.

He was sobbing now, and couldn’t stop. The rainstorm was inside the tent, flowing down his cheeks. He expressed to his wife and his son things bottled up inside for years that he wanted to say but couldn’t before now. He told them about the vision and they believed him. Then he did something he hadn’t done in way too long. He laughed. And they laughed together. And played. And sang. And lived. Something tangible changed in the tent that day and never changed back.

For decades following, the Lord gave Isaiah some of the most powerful prophetic words He’s ever given a prophet. They are still favorites today and bring healing to wounded people thousands of years later. And it all started with an experience with the Living God. An experience that changed everything.

– Based on Isaiah 6:1-13.

 

How about you? Have you been undone? I was undone by God’s love a long time ago. One can never go back afterwards. And who would want to? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share this on Facebook if it blessed you.