This Is Not Our Battle

The battle is not yours
God said, “It’s mine.”
The battle is not yours
God said, “It’s mine.”
If you’ll stand, stand and see
He’ll show up on time
The battle is not yours
God said, “It’s mine.”

Did you ever sing this song? I remember this song bringing down the house when I was younger! People would dance and shout proclaiming whatever dilemma they were facing was in fact a battle and God would show up just in the nick of time and save them from their circumstance.

I actually hadn’t thought of this song in a long time, but something that was said to me today brought it to my mind.

Disclosure, this blog has political undertones so if that is a trigger for you, stop reading here. Also, I am not looking for a fight and will not engage in one with you on this topic. Like, ever. 

I was chatting with a group of people this afternoon about the current state of US politics and their effect on us as Christians. This was in no way a debate or heated conversation and the point wasn’t as much of conversing about politics, but more along the line of how we, as Christ followers, should treat our neighbors who may disagree with us on seemingly important and personal political topics. Everyone stated their opinions respectfully and in an adult like manner and we all left as friends just as Christians should.

The question was asked: “how far do we as Christians allow things to go before we stand up and fight?”

I think this is a valid response for someone who is very passionate about their beliefs. And let me just say, you should be passionate about your beliefs! Which is actually my very point here.

As I left that meeting, I began to really ponder over that question. My mind went to the New Testament and the followers of Jesus in those days.  I honestly could not think of a single situation where they got together and “fought” for their beliefs.  They were passionate about the gospel for certain and never denounced Christ, even while being persecuted, but I could not think of any instance where they rose up in a sort of revolt against their governing leaders. And these people were being treated terribly! They were being stoned in the streets, thrown into prison cells, crucified, beheaded, well, you get the idea.

Now, before you start fuming out your ears at my passive response to what some may perceive as a battle against the very core of your beliefs, hear me out.

IF we believe the Bible like we say we do. And IF we want to proclaim the gospel to our family, friends, and neighbors as we say we do, something very important needs to happen here.

We need to practice what we preach.

Romans chapter 13 tells us that God has appointed our leaders. Matthew 6 tells us that God takes care of even the sparrows. How much more will he take care of his children? 1 Peter 2 states we are to honor the emperor and accept the authority of human institution.

Now, I know where you’re mind is headed. “But Jen, what if our leaders say we can’t worship Christ?” Let me bring up Acts 5. Peter said he must obey God before men, but what was happening around this statement? God had miraculously freed Peter and the apostles from their prison cells. (Key word here being “God”) Peter didn’t bow down to the demands of the authorities to not preach the gospel, however, you don’t see the apostles going around to other believers and speaking disrespectfully about the authorities, they didn’t arrange a revolt, they didn’t even create rude memes and blast them all over Facebook. What they did do, is continue preaching the gospel and trust that God was going to take care of them somehow, and that’s exactly what happened.

I’m not saying we should compromise our beliefs as Christians. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our civic duty and vote for whoever the Spirit leads us to. I’m also not saying we should back down in the midst of a difficult social situation. I’m not even saying we can’t advocate for change. What I am saying is this, trust God. We as Christians either believe he will direct or paths or we don’t.

I used to do this very thing. Wring my hands and worry about things that were outside of my control. That was the religious environment I was brought up in. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. But, all that did was give me premature worry lines on my forehead and deprive me of nights of precious sleep.

So, my dear, fellow believer, stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s not yours to carry! I’m sure it takes a lot of time and energy to get worked up about what’s going on in our world today and you shouldn’t. Not if you trust God! It’s not our battle to fight! It’s his!

Many of the apostles and disciples in the New Testament were tortured and killed for not backing down from their beliefs. There are amazing Christians around the world even today who have suffered a similar fate. It’s heart wrenching to think about. But the fact remains, our times and seasons are in God’s hands, and if we believe in him, we know there is life after this world. Does he not take care of you? Even when things aren’t going as we think they should here on earth, God is bigger. He is bigger than the political parties of the United States, he is even bigger than the Queen of England, and I have to think it breaks his heart a little when he sees his children all out of sorts stressing over situations he already has handled.

As we look back through history, God has always had a church. The church has been through so much worse than what is currently going in our first world country, why do we think we are any different than those who have gone before us? God’s got this.

If you are struggling to find peace in our world today, I challenge you to give that stress over to God. And you know what? His burden is easy and his yoke is light. We aren’t created to run around in a constant state of panic all the time. We were created to worship our Heavenly Father. Let’s not get distracted from what is eternal by what is temporal and fleeting.

But Does it Matter Really?

First off, how is your summer going? This is my favorite time of year and it always seems to fly by! This year especially because we are so busy trying to play catchup on all the fun things we missed out on last year because of Covid. I mean, who wanted to go to a water park wearing a mask?

Anyway, I have been mulling over several things the last few weeks, different theological ideas and such. The topics are not important however to the conclusion I have drawn. In the end, it doesn’t really matter.

I used to think someone needed to have all of the answers in order to be saved. I thought in order for you to be “right with God” you needed to have your stuff figured out, all of your ducks in a row, your special holy revelations if you will. I thought God cared about these things.

Thank goodness I was wrong!

I feel completely inadequate at life most of the time, and even more so in the department of all things spiritual! I am an uneducated, underpaid, middle class woman from the Midwest. It’s a wonder I can tie my shoes, much less have all my spiritual ducks swimming in a solid straight line.

Enter grace.

While I have been wracking my brain and beating myself up over the fact I can’t explain things such as the afterlife or the age of the earth with absolute certainty, God is standing by saying, “Seriously though, does it really matter?”

Some may say, yes. And I do agree, to a point. Not to mention, I prefer to know somewhat about what I’m talking about when engaging in conversations about such topics with people much smarter than me. Knowledge is important. In fact, God gave us brains to use and when we neglect to use them, I’m sure he views that as the master in the parable of the talents. Why would we not use what God has given us to explore what we do not know for certain?

However, the heat is off me. I can freely investigate and make opinions based on the information at hand and know that even if I am wrong, it doesn’t really matter. Would I like to know exactly what happens after we die? Of course! Do I wish I had all of the answers for someone who is fearful of the “endtimes”? Obviously. But the fact of the matter is, I have no freaking clue. And anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

I know that there is a God in heaven, and I believe that Christ’s death on the cross covers my multitude of sins. Everything else is irrelevant in the end.

I think if we ever get to a place where we think we have it figured out, we are in danger. Pride is foolish according to the Bible and if we are truly honest with ourselves, we’re all struggling out here.

I guess what I’m trying to say is give grace. Give grace to yourself for not having life’s biggest mysteries figured out. Give grace to those who are figuring out their own path in ways different than you. Give grace to those who come to different conclusions. Give grace even to the ones who claim to know all of the answers. That’s what Jesus does.

We are all just doing the best we can.

I Will Never Be the Same

I had a very interesting day today. I got to chit-chat with several different amazing people throughout the day who have had a similar journey to freedom as me. It is awe-inspiring to me how we all lead different lives, are on different paths, and then in eerily similar ways, God exposed the religious bondage in which we were held captive and set us free. The road to spiritual freedom can be a little difficult to navigate at times and I think God strategically puts people in our lives to encourage us along the way.

One of these beautiful people said something that struck a chord with me. Something that I have said myself. In fact, I may have even written it out in some fashion, because I believe it, or I thought I did. They said, “I haven’t changed [since I left the church], I am still the same person I was before.”

I pondered on that statement this evening and it’s true, kind of. I am the same person I was before I left the UPCI in many ways. I am still sarcastic and laugh during inappropriate situations. I still have a serious problem with rolling my eyes out loud, and you can forget about me being able to hide my thoughts behind straight facial expressions. I am still an empath and a fixer, those parts of me didn’t change. I have always been one to root for the underdog and refuse to blend into a crowd. I am still not a cat person and absolutely loathe mornings. Yes, in many ways I am still the same person, but in many ways I am completely different.

I have awoken from my state of oblivious naivety. I have discovered how true friendships operate and my eyes have been opened to how convenient relationships can be mistaken for friendships. I have unfortunately been made aware of just how far people will go to obtain and maintain money and power. Once you see these things, you can never unsee them.

My outward appearance has changed quite a bit, so in that way specifically, I am not the same. I would say I have upgraded. I now have the freedom to present my unique self to others in a way I am comfortable with. But deeper and more meaningful than clothing and hairstyles I can say I have positively changed in some unexpected ways.

I find I tend to choose love over judgment more often. I have learned to recognize the still, small voice of God in my life. I have discovered my identity does not lie within a religious organization, but with Christ. I have become more sure of myself and confident about my status with God. I have found to sometimes in order to win an argument I have to just walk away. (That was a difficult lesson.) I have learned to apologize less for the things I cannot control and take more responsibility for the things I can. I am seeking to be better, stronger, kinder, and more Christlike every day. In these ways, I have changed.

While it sounds good to be able to say, I haven’t changed, I am still the same person I was before, I simply cannot truthfully make that statement. Truth is, I have changed. There is no way I could go back to the way I was before. I have seen too much. Experienced too much. I will never be the same again, and honestly I prefer the new me. I walk with my head held a little higher, smile a little brighter, and treat people a little nicer.

Sometimes change is good.

Confessions of a “Strong Woman”

The last week has been an emotional roller coaster of sorts. My oldest child attended her last day of high school, so right off the bat this mama is a wreck! However, aside from the normal day to day, a few other things happened to cause me to still be awake at 12:32 AM, because believe me, usually I’d be fast asleep dreaming of puppies and rainbows by now! Let me explain.

A few days ago, I received an incredibly flattering compliment. Someone in complete passing remarked how they viewed me as a “strong woman”. Wow! I was flabbergasted! I always feel like a hot mess, so to hear an actual “strong woman” use these words to describe me, I’m not going to lie, it felt good. It felt more than good, it felt amazing! I have worked very hard to make it to the ranks of women who could be considered “strong”, and although I don’t feel it most of the time, I’ll certainly take the compliment!

The other compliment that was given to me today was that I was considered by this person to be an “authentic Christian woman”. I have to say, it brought tears to my eyes! If this is even half true, I feel so humbled that they would even think to tell me they thought this way about me! That is what life is all about after all right?

Words like these spoken into someone’s life are so encouraging, and I truly did feel encouraged.

Then reality set in.

I’ve said over and over again, I write for me, and the way this blog has grown, has not been from anything I have tried to accomplish that is for certain. And when my book came out, I knew it may ruffle some feathers, but I had zero idea of the ripple effects it would create.

While I use this blog and used Free as my own personal growth and healing outlet, others have been using it as a vendetta to destroy me.

I don’t usually play the victim card, I mean, religion is personal, I get it, I’ve stepped on people’s toes here. However, while I have received the most incredible compliments I have ever received in my entire life this week, I have also been reminded of the ugly extent people will go to protect their religious traditions from anything they view as a threat.

I guess it hasn’t been enough for me to leave out specific names and locations from my story. I suppose it doesn’t matter to people the amount of trauma I have had to overcome and the importance that writing has to my personal growth. I assume people just don’t care that I always make a point to say, I have no hard feelings or anger towards them. I guess instead of actually having a difficult, awkward conversation with me, it is easier to spew out false accusations and lies.

So, here it is guys, my open, honest, vulnerable self, heart still freshly bleeding from the falsehoods you have spoken about me, here is the bottom line, absolute truth:

This is hard.

This is hard! Speaking out against the very religion I grew up in is hard. Knowing that many people whom I loved dearly are lying about me behind closed doors is hard. Looking people in the eye after I know what they have said about me and my family is hard. Loving them as myself in spite of the hurt is hard.

But it’s so worth it.

I will continue to hold my head up high. I will continue to use my voice to be vulnerable and authentic not only for myself, but also for those walking this path of healing behind me. I will continue to open my door to whomever is hurting no matter what they have said to others about me. I will not back down. I am not going away anytime soon. And you can rest assured:

I am a strong woman. Your lies cannot and will not shut me up or shake me.

The Goodness of God

It’s been a while since I have word vomited on you guys! I hate that, I would love to sit down and write all day long, but you know, life.

My daughter and I were talking this evening about learning to hear God. I am so proud of her and her walk with the Lord! She said, “sometimes mom you just know because certain things come alive to you.” She’s right.

Have you ever had a conversation in your head while you’re lying in bed and then bam a deeper meaning hits you? When that happens to me, I like to write about it so I remember later!

Once a month at my church we have a food drive. I am ashamed to say I probably forget half of the time, but this week, while grocery shopping, I actually remembered and bought extra of a few things to donate. It occurred to me in the canned goods aisle of Walmart that what I was buying seemed very insignificant in the scheme of things, but I quickly felt a wave of thankfulness wash over me because I had the means to give, even if it was a little.

I am like most everyone else, I stress about finances. I complain when I don’t have as much money in the bank that I feel I should have. I lose sleep at night figuring out how I am going to come up with money for camps and sports for the kids. We always seem to swing it, but the prospect of not having enough is forever in the back of my mind.

And so tonight, as I was rehashing in my head my little experience in the grocery store, I instinctively thought, “God, you are so good.” Then bam it hit me. How quick I am to tell God he’s good simply because he was gracious enough to supply us jobs to put food on our table. But, let’s be honest here, whether I am the person donating the groceries or if I am the person needing the groceries, God is still good. No matter what my financial situation, God is good. No matter my health situation, God is good.

God is God and therefore he is just, gracious, sovereign, good, and merciful simply because he is God. I think the element of associating the goodness of God with tangible things is something us first world Christians have invented. Herein lies the problem of the “prosperity gospel”. We judge how good God is by what he has given to us, but in reality that is not where his majesty lies. By putting God in this type of a box we are limiting his endless power. Some of us have even come to believe that we can demand God to give us stuff. How many times have you ever heard a prosperity gospel minister say something to the effect of, “I command the sky not to rain today so our church BBQ isn’t ruined!”? Or the famous, “if you give your part, God will bless you so much your wallet won’t be able to hold all your hundreds!” But is this what God is really about?

What makes you think God has favored you over someone in a far away country living in a cardboard box? Who do you think you are to tell God he’s good just because you have food on your table?

Ouch!

Now, before you go and say, “but Jen, we should thank God for our material blessings!” Let me just stop you right there. Yes, we should always show gratitude for everything we have in life! We should tell God we are thankful for our blessings every chance we have! However, whether God chooses to bless me with stuff, or whether he doesn’t, he is still good. My situation is a “moo point” to quote Joey from Friends.

As Job said:

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord .”
Job 1:21 ESV

Deconstructing Your Religion, Not Your Faith

“Deconstructing”. This term seems to get thrown around a lot, especially as of late, With the dawn of Covid came the demise of many traditional religious church traditions. Is it because of Covid, or because many people are sick and tired of the pretenses? Are many first world church goers realizing that what they have experienced in church buildings everywhere is more along the lines of heresy than true Christianity? Has this caused many to question their very belief in Christ?

I think the answer to all of these questions is, yes.

Couple all of those thoughts with pure human emotion, and that equals much hurt. Church hurt to be exact. Feelings of betrayal, anger, sadness and confusion just to name a few are the remnants of what some used to call their very identity.

Herein lies the problem.

Our identity.

I have written about this many, many times, but when people get upset with me for speaking out against the UPC, it isn’t because I have said anything about them personally. It is because I have said something against the very religion that they deem apart of themselves. They have invested heart and soul into a church organization and so when one verbalizes distain or disagreement with said organization, they take it very personally. But, our identity isn’t a religious organization. In fact, it isn’t even a religion. As Christ followers, our identity is in Christ alone.

Yet, here we are. Many genuinely hurting people are all around us who used to sit in a pew next to us every week and “feel the presence of God” with us. I speak from a previous religious experience that was based solely off of feelings and emotions. Every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday youth service, we judged how much “God” we experienced off of how many songs were song at a fast beat, how many people could be found shouting at the altar, and how loud the minister yelled into an old church mic. We shook hands with those around us, smiled through our raw feelings of whatever we had endured throughout the week, and “pressed through” in order to obtain the coveted “anointing”.

Week in and week out this was our lives. However, somewhere along the line, whether it be from the break from Covid, or because we just couldn’t take the highs and lows of an emotional religious experience any longer, we broke free.

But, breaking free of a religious experience is not the same of breaking free from Christ. Maybe I need to say that again. When you leave a religion, that does NOT mean you leave Jesus! What you do leave, is the emotionalism, and that can be problematic for many.

We were always taught unless you “felt” something, you weren’t doing it right, Unless you had that spiritual high during every church service, and even at home, your very soul was in danger. That delusion however, has cost many people their walk with God. The idea that living for God is all about a certain feeling is preposterous to say the least.

Let me stop right here and say, I do believe you can feel God.

That being said, humans are emotional. When you don’t have emotions any longer, that is a huge red flag, but to base our standing with God off of our emotions and feelings, we are limiting God to dwell within our finite capabilities, and forcing him into a box of our feelings. Not to mention, when we are feeling down, or just not up to par on a Sunday morning, yet we force ourselves to put on a happy face and pretend that we are, I’m sure that annoys God to no end! He made us for crying out loud! He knows when we are faking it, and don’t you think that is a bit of an insult to him if we can’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “I feel like crap today God. I know you’re real and I am just going to rest in that fact and let you do everything else”?

Now, back to the deconstructing part. Because so many religious experiences are forced into a tiny box of human emotions, this is now how we now judge our Christianity, by our feelings. See where I am going here? Since we are so used to faking it, so used to putting God in our tidy little box of emotionalism, when we don’t have that “high”, we are programmed to think that God isn’t around. We have been ingrained by religion that if we don’t feel like reading our Bible everyday, if we just can’t bring our minds to get past our ADD and pray 24/7, if we don’t dress perfectly, act perfectly, portray our religion to others perfectly God must not be in us. We must have lost our very faith, if we don’t feel like being religious all of the time. Then we begin to question God. If we can’t feel him, he must not be real. When reality, this is all apart of being human. We don’t have to feel God all of the time, and when we can’t, that does not mean he isn’t around.

It is okay to have our ups and downs as a Christ follower. It is okay to not always feel like taking three hours a day to study the Bible, and it is also okay to admit you are simply needing a break!

Ephesians 1:13 states this:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.

I did a little research on the word “sealed” in this verse, it means endorsed, like with a king’s signet ring. In other words, God endorsed us when we believed that he sent his son Jesus to die for us. It doesn’t say God only seals us when we feel him around by us going through religious motions, or traditions. It doesn’t say we are only endorsed by God when we have good days and read our Bibles and pray a certain amount of time. We are endorsed by the Holy Spirit when we believed on Christ. That’s it. This is our identity, not a religion.

When we limit God to our own feelings, and make him that small, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. This belief can cause us to question the very existence of our Creator, and while I truly believe we as humans can feel the presence of God, I think we feel him in everyday subtle ways more genuinely than in shout down church services. I know I’ve experienced God in sitting outside soaking up sunshine, driving in my car just thinking about his grace and mercy, and other mundane day to day activities where God is just as much around me as in a church building.

Just because you may be in a place of your life of deconstructing your religion, you don’t have to deconstruct your very faith in God. He is real and with you even when you don’t feel religious.

Happy.

This was going to start out as a Facebook post, but it got way too long for that, so I’m dropping it here.

I haven’t blogged as much in the last several months and here’s why, I am happy! I can’t believe I am sincerely typing this, but after struggling to find my place for years I feel like I am finally there. Since I have shared all of my personal feelings, emotions and struggles with all of you for nearly three years now, I thought it fitting to share where I am currently on my journey!

I’m sure things will change again at some point, and I will get knocked on my butt once more, but hey, that’s life! And I am better prepared than I ever have been for when that happens!

Before I left the United Pentecostal Church organization in 2016, I would describe myself as unsure, insecure, unhappy, inauthentic, and self aware. I loathed my hair and my clothes and that feeling seeped over into other aspects of my life. I wasn’t strong in my religious beliefs, and I had zero idea of how to explain them when asked. I had no clue about the amazing gift of God’s grace and I felt like life was just passing me by as I was struggling to get out of my own skin and show the world who I truly was behind my religious facade. I had no identity outside of my religious organization and no hope of projecting my uniqueness to the world.

But God.

Ephesians 2:4-5 says:

But God being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us……made us ALIVE together with Christ, by grace you are saved!

God made us ALIVE! And I can honestly say, I have never felt so alive!

Five years and eight months to the day tomorrow God made me alive with Christ. Since that time labeled “Emancipation Day” in my calendar, I have learned to live freely, love freely, and not just survive, but thrive!

I know not everyone will agree with my stance on all things, and when that bothered me before, I’m okay with it now! Why? Because now, I am confident in not only my beliefs about God, but I am confident in myself and how God feels about me. This makes me more confident at my job, at my marriage, and everything else in between!

I am sure of myself, and know that when I walk into a room and people stare, it isn’t because I’ve walked in with my head down projecting insecurity. It is because I am confident as a daughter of Christ. I am secure enough in Him to be secure in myself.

I realize the cards were stacked against me in many ways. I realize I could have furthered my education and made something more of myself. I realize I will never be the most beautiful person in the room, the most intelligent, or the most put together, but I am bringing me into the room, and that is enough.

Despite everything, I have made it. I can say I am happy, strong, beautiful, and confident. There is restoration and life after a cult. I am living proof of it!

Thank you all for your support on my journey! I couldn’t have made it this far without this outlet to heal. ❤

Modernized Christianity? Yes Please.

I walked into church this morning, more accurately, I dragged myself into church this morning, still nursing my morning coffee that I hadn’t hadn’t yet had the time to drink. This has been one crazy week in my house and I am emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. So after I ushered the herd of kids I had with me to their seats, I slid into the very last row of the highest level of the balcony.

The music was already pumping, not exactly the way of the churches I grew up in, but in the beautiful way of pure worship. Not condemning the style of music I grew up with, I still appreciate the occasional choir music, but it is definitely different here.

I have heard and seen a lot of negativity surrounding the idea of the modernized American church, and I agree with some of the criticism. I have heard it preached how we don’t need the fancy lighting, videos, and coffee bar to feel Jesus. And I completely agree with that sentiment. But this morning, it dawned on me, modernized church has gotten a bad rap for things that can be and are good in many ways. The lights, the music, the coffee while worshiping was just what my heart needed today. Today, I was doing my best just to get there. And when I did finally arrive, because the lighting was conducive for worship, the song had lyrics applicable to my life, and I was able to just relax and sip my wakeup caffeine, it was easy to just close my eyes and focus on God. My soul was refreshed. I could stand in the presence of God and just be. No pretenses, no pressure to pretend I have my life together, and no expectations of my “worship” performance. I was able to just stand, take a deep breath and soak in the presence of God.

Did I feel refreshed because of the perfection of the production? Absolutely not. That was from God. Would I have been able to have the same experience without any of it? Of course. But would I have pressed through the mental exhaustion and distractions otherwise? I’m human, so probably not.

Jesus says to go into the world and preach the gospel. In order to be effective to reach people, we have to be willing to meet them where they are. How do we do this? By staying modern and relevant. If we were still exclusively singing songs written in the 1800’s, sitting on hard, backless benches with no heat, and no sound system how can we reach people? I’m not saying we can’t ever sing old hymns, I do love a few rounds of Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but the verbiage of such songs may not always be relevant in a modern, first world America. Nothing against those songs, but life has changed since they were written. Customs have changed, and if we want to reach our fellow Americans we have to be willing to be modern and relevant.

I have heard people lamenting over the lost days of hymns, “old fashioned” preaching, tent revivals and non air conditioned churches. And while these things had an important place in the legacy of Christianity, would they be successful tools in today’s day and age to spread the gospel? Which, is the entire purpose of church to begin with. A church is a place of refuge. And if we can’t be comfortable there, how can it fulfill it’s purpose?

Can you be a Christian and not attend church? Yep. Can you be a Christian and attend a church that doesn’t have modern accommodations? Yep. But for me, today, I am thankful to be able to just drag my hot mess self, coffee in hand, and worship God without distractions. Today I am thankful for modernized Christianity.

The Casualties of Conformity

Use your imagination with me and picture this scenario:

It is a cold night, snow is on the ground and more is on it’s way. A homeless man, has been wandering around the city for hours trying to find a suitable place to sit that would be out of the blistery wind. Suddenly, he stumbles upon a shelter. This shelter is lit up as a lighthouse in a storm. The homeless man’s heart skips a beat as he makes his way to the door. Finally some warmth and maybe some food for his rumbling stomach! He walks up the steps to the door and just as he reaches for the handle, the owner of the shelter opens the door. The homeless man asks him for refuge and the owner tells him he would love to give him the necessities for the evening. But just as the homeless man could feel the warmth of the shelter’s more than adequate heat, the owner tells him in order to enter, he has to prove himself worthy. In order to take advantage of the shelter’s amenities, he must do several tasks. The homeless man, eager to get in, agrees to do whatever the owner tells him to do. The owner than lays out the stipulations, “in order for you to get the reward of the heat and food, you must run around this building thirty times. Then, I must witness you do 200 sit ups. After that, I must hear you read a 500 page novel, and when you are finished, I want you to learn a new foreign language. When you have done all these things and are fluent in a new language, then I will be more than happy to let you in and feed you and let you feel the warmth of my heater!” Discouraged, knowing he didn’t have the physical or mental stamina to accomplish the owner’s demands, the homeless man turns and walks back down the stairs and out into the cold never to be heard from again.

This story would sound a little far fetched and ridiculous to most people. The majority of us would be angry at the owner of the shelter. He has more than enough to share with the homeless man, yet he made this man jump through hoops just to get to enjoy the basic necessities. But isn’t this how churches treat people looking in on them sometimes? They have the promise of life everlasting, the beautiful gift of God’s undeserving, unmerited favor, yet some still tend to make people prove themselves worthy in order to obtain it.

It’s like they hold God’s grace as a carrot on a stick, and only by following their rules are you able to achieve it.

How many people have been turned away from God because of this?

I was at a gathering this weekend that included many UPC members and ministers and many, many ex-UPC members. As I looked around it made me sad. There were so many good people who want to do right, and I’m sure if you asked them, they want to make it to heaven, but they have been taught that the only way to get there is to live a lifestyle that seems so out of reach for them, How many people have been turned away from Christ altogether, because they are taught that the only way to please God is to jump through so many unnecessary hoops?

How many times have you witnessed someone leave a legalistic religion just to end up wandering by themselves in the cold? They don’t even try to seek God because they only way they know how is to prove to God they are worthy of his grace by living a life following a list of rules, and they know they can’t live up to that kind of perfection.

If we were honest with ourselves, nobody can.

But imagine the story above ending with the owner of the shelter putting his arm around the homeless man, giving him a warm meal, a soft bed, and resources to help him in the future. It would have made for a much better story. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Jesus made grace and mercy free for us by dying on the cross! He gave us a new commandment for this dispensation, love.

If we take Jesus upon ourselves and accept his gift of grace and mercy, we in turn will strive to be more like him. Not because we want to show him we are worthy of the beautiful life he has promised us, but because we love him and others so much we want to share our gift! Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” By stacking on unnecessary stipulations, we are making his yoke heavy and unobtainable to us as humans.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. Not one person in a legalistic church can actual live up to those standards one hundred percent of the time. If we could, there was no reason for Christ to die.

Acts 15:10-11 states this:

Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

Peter was saying to the Jewish Christian converts, don’t make living for God harder than what God intended it to be. We are saved through grace. The end. No additional ands, buts, or ors about it. And I think those who make people believe that in order to obtain eternal life you have to follow additional rules will be held accountable for that one day. They are limiting the power of God’s grace, and turning away many people from the shelter of God.

Death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. What more could we do?

Grace is underserved, unmerited favor. We didn’t deserve it, but we get to partake in it anyway. By placing stipulations on God’s grace we are grieving him greatly and telling him, he isn’t enough for us, we want more.

How many people have we lost along the way due to a legalistic mindset?

The definition of legalistic is this: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit.

Chew on that for a moment.

How many souls have been cast aside as casualties of conformity?

I’m sure it grieves God.

Reflections on 2020

Happy New Year!

What a crazy year 2020 has been! I don’t think I need to recap for you all the crazy that has taken place in the last 365 days! As I write this, my New Year’s Eve, probably as most of yours, looks a bit different as it has in years past. Normally, around this time we would be with friends celebrating and ringing in the new year together. Instead, here I sit, alone in my office, in my pajamas.

To be honest, I’m not all that sad about it, but, that thought scares me a little.

By nature we are meant to be social. Humans are designed to be around other humans. Yes, that includes us introverts as well!

As 2020 progressed, and the “new normal” has included less and less people around us, I find myself almost forgetting what my 2019 normal was like. Large birthday parties have been replaced with birthday “parades”. Face to face in home small group has been replaced with Zoom meetings. Church has been online nearly as much as in person, and when we do get to go in person, we are separated by pews and masks. Going out with friends has been replaced with intimate dinner and drinks if we are lucky, if not, more Zoom and or Houseparty it is.

I am thankful for all of the technology in this day and age that does keep us somewhat connected, but the more I think about how much I have missed out on this year, it does make me sad. I miss my friends’ laughter, a house full of kids sleeping over, my extended family lunches on Sundays. I miss shaking hands, giving hugs, and seeing smiles. I can only hope and pray 2021 will bring back these things, because I am not okay with being okay to sit here alone.

On a more positive note, I can say that being home more has given me time I wouldn’t have had otherwise to get to know other people who aren’t so local. Because of all of the restraints, I have had many more opportunities to participate in Facebook groups, and online Bible Studies. It really is amazing that I can now say I am friends with people who live many, many miles away. I am thankful for the technology that brings us together! (That unintentionally sounded a little like an AT&T commercial).

My resolve for this coming year, as hopefully the vaccine will be effective, is to cherish my time with those I love. I am going to be intentional about making plans with family and friends both local and far away.

As this year comes to an end, I also want to thank each and every one of you. You have shared in my journey and I have enjoyed hearing from many of you. So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Here’s to your 2021 being the best year you’ve ever had!