Change is Possible

Friday, December 27, 2019

In my neighborhood, there's a white kidnapper van that attracts all kinds of attention. Parked on the street, the van is covered with homemade stickers with just about every controversial word known to the year 2019 in bold, block letters: "NRA," "THE BEAST," "666," "TRUMP 2020," "GOP," "DEMOCRATS LIE" ... Every time I run or bike by it I look for new stickers I hadn't noticed before. It's quite the sight to behold. I could sell tickets.

The last time I jogged by it, however, I almost missed it. To my great surprise, all of the stickers had been taken down from the van, except for one: "JESUS SAVES".

How did this van go from political evangelism to Jesus evangelism? Since this transformation, I've concocted several hypothetical explanations for what happened. Maybe this person realized that associating any political affiliation with Jesus harmed the message of the gospel. Maybe this person realized that neither Trump nor the NRA can save us. Or maybe I'm being way too idealistic and this person just got tired of printing off new stickers to keep up with all of our nation's crazy political developments. I have no clue what the motivation was, but one thing is certain: something changed.

This now-blank van reminds me of one important truth in our Christian faith:

Change is possible.

You see, we expect many things from people who profess to follow Christ. We expect them to attend church regularly and to tithe at least 10% of their income. We expect them to read their Bibles and pray on a daily basis. We expect them to serve and to join small groups.

But do we expect that showing up at church and living life with flawed and broken people is going to change us into people who love God's people more? Do we expect that tithing is going to change our minds from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality? Do we expect that reading God's Word and praying is going to change us so that we intimately know God and are able to discern his voice?

Do we anticipate that these practices will lead to change? Do we expect the Holy Spirit to work through them in order to change us?

Do we just believe that "Jesus saves"... or do we believe that Jesus saves and changes?

It's taken me an embarrasingly long time to realize that I can't will myself into change. Truth is certainly necessary for change, but I can't will myself into believing it and living differently because of it. Information alone does not produce transformation. If that were the case, we'd be the most changed people in history thanks to all the information we can instantly access! For all of us who are achievers, this is bad news. It means that trying harder or applying more effort won't make us changed people.

Spiritual maturity happens at God's initiative rather than by our own pushing and pulling.

In John 15:1-8, Jesus instructs his followers that he is the vine and they are the branches. "If you remain in me and I in you," he says, "you will bear much fruit" (v. 5). Remaining in Jesus, dwelling in God's presence - this is the key to change.

God's truth changes us, but only when we invite the Spirit to make us receptive to the work that God wants to do in us. God invites all of us to open ourselves to his presence, to quit striving and to just be still and know.

Honestly, based upon the stickers, I never would have expected that the owner of that van could change. I had my mind made up about who they were and what they could or could not do. But this visible transformation gives me hope. If a van can be wiped clean of its unyielding, political messaging, then there's hope for me, too.

God is not finished with me yet. God continues to wipe me clean of the ways that I refuse to yield to his Spirit. He's removing all of my messaging and agendas that are not aligned with his kingdom. In his loving grace, he is inviting me to continue to change.

Because the God who comes to me can change me in ways I cannot manage by myself.

Advent: Welcoming Jesus in All His Strangeness

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A few weeks ago, I was flying out of the Chicago airport and found myself sitting next to an elderly woman named Joann. Have you ever met someone and somehow knew right away that they were a treasure-trove of depth and experience? This 81-year-old woman was one of those instant connections for me. I initiated conversation, and before you knew it we were laughing over her story of getting run over by a nun at the Vatican and my story of throwing up in the Church of the Nativity (and then fleeing). We were at one point laughing so hard that I feared a flight attendant would come and tell us to quiet down.

Before we disembarked, Joann offered to give me a ride to my next destination and even kindly offered her home for me to stay the night. She wrote down both her home and cell phone numbers on a napkin so I could call her if I ever came back to Kansas City (she wants to take me out to dinner and give me a tour of all of her favorite parts of KC).

I left that plane that day in awe over this stranger's kindness and hospitality. She didn't really even know me. I wasn't "her people" - I was from a strange place called Columbus, Ohio. And yet she genuinely cared enough about me to invite me into her world. I don't know if I'll ever find myself back in KC, but there's great comfort in knowing that I already have a friend there.

Ever since this interaction, I haven't been able to stop thinking about how much hospitality has to do with Advent. 

I think about how Mary had to travel from her hometown of Nazareth all the way to Bethlehem, where she stayed with Joseph's extended family in their courtyard (not a barn at an inn as we tend to imagine). Even though they were technically family, they were strangers to the newly-wed Mary (and maybe even to Joseph).

I think about how the shepherds came to welcome this new baby, even though they were complete strangers to this visiting family. How chaotic it must have been to have a band of strangers packed together with Joseph's family in the tiny courtyard! Yet, Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

And then Jesus grew up, and I think about all the times that Jesus was denied hospitality. Baby Jesus was welcomed with open arms, but adult Jesus was chased out of towns, scorned by the rich and the powerful, and ultimately killed in a way that was reserved for the most shameful of crimes.

Advent reminds us that Jesus became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. But it also reminds us that we did not receive him. Jesus was born in the world that he made, yet "the world did not recognize him" (John 1:10-14).

We as a culture tend to love the "holy infant so tender and mild," but adult Jesus is more difficult to contend with. Adult Jesus challenges our priorities, our motives, our hearts, our wants. Adult Jesus scatters those who are proud and brings down rulers from their thrones. Adult Jesus fills the hungry but sends the rich away empty (Luke 2:51-53).

We can relate to baby Jesus, tender and mild, but adult Jesus is a stranger to us from a very, very strange place.

But, oh, how I long to be like Joann! How I long to have a heart that overflows with generosity toward that which is strange. How I long to invite Jesus and all his wild kingdom ways into my world. How I long for Jesus to know that he has place here on earth with me.

How I long to extend radical hospitality so that Jesus, in all his strangeness, becomes that which is most familiar. 

Before he left this earth, Jesus talked about how he was going away to prepare a place for his followers (John 14:1-4). Jesus understands very well what hospitality means. But maybe Advent is an opportunity for our hearts to "prepare him room," too.

And when we prepare room for both baby Jesus and adult Jesus, all of heaven and nature sing.

Postmodernity in Our Neighborhoods

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Once upon a time, I stumbled upon an immersive, science-fictiony, interactive, art installation in an abandoned strip mall called "Otherworld." What appeared to be an unassuming storefront was actually a little-known secret of labyrinth-like rooms filled with neon colors, flashing lights, an array of textures, and subjects that ranged from cute and amusing to strange and disturbing.

I spent hours wandering around the rooms, mesmerized by all the things to see, touch, and hear. The rules in this place were completely different from the rules in the "outside world." Reality was reconstructed and things that would usually be impossible became possible (How did the lighting in one room make everything in it black-and-white, including my husband's neon green shoes?). Unlike other art museums, this one was designed for its visitors to interact with it. We could touch and manipulate and explore.

The craziest part was that Otherworld was right in my own neighborhood, biking distance from my house, and I had no idea such a place even existed.

After working my way through the entire exhibit, I sat down in the front foyer, exhausted. My brain was overloaded. All of my senses were overstimulated. I promptly went home and took a two-hour nap. I think I'm still recovering.

For the American Church, postmodernity tends to feel a lot like this art installation in Columbus, Ohio. Postmodernity is a strange way of viewing the world. It challenges the boundaries of our perceptions of reality and comes with its own set of rules that are contrary to those of modernity. Because of its rejection of much of modern thought, understanding postmodernity can be jarring, confusing, and perhaps even frustrating. We wander around the exhibit, trying to figure out what we're experiencing and what these "rules" are. We can end up lost.

But we as the Church need to start learning how to navigate postmodernity's strange terrain, because it's already making an appearance in our neighborhoods.

We just might not realize it yet.

Unfortunately, postmodernity has often been perceived by the American Church as the bogeyman. We're often resistant to this new way of thinking because we see it as a threat to Christianity. Like all ways of perceiving the world, modernity included, there are certainly some hazards and pitfalls about postmodernity that we need to navigate with care. We need to be diligent in critiquing all philosophies that are contrary to the mind of Christ (Colossians 2:8).

Yet, I think that the real reason why postmodernity seems so threatening to some churches is because they are so thoroughly modern.

I would like to propose that although postmodernity may be the enemy of modernity, it can potentially be an ally of the Christian faith.

But only if we are willing to listen, learn, and understand.

The American businessman and writer Max De Pree said that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Over the next few posts, I'll be defining the new "reality" of postmodernity. Drawing from the philosophical thought of people who are WAY smarter than me, I'll be sharing some basic tools to help us navigate postmodernity's rules. This series on postmodernity will consist of the following five posts:

  1. Postmodernity in Our Neighborhoods
  2. Postmodernity 101 - Modernism vs. Postmodernism
  3. Postmodernity 102 - Deconstructionism
  4. Postmodernity 103 - Prove Your Trustworthiness
  5. Postmodernity 104 - The Power of Story

I hope that you find these resources helpful as we seek to know and love the neighborhoods where we live and serve. For God's sake, let's think.

For further reading:

  • Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be by J. Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh
  • Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? by James K.A. Smith
  • The End of Apologetics by Myron Penner (VERY heavy read - I also recommend this interview)
  • The Sermon Without End by Ronald Allen and Wesley Allen

Women Are Preaching From the Margins

Monday, October 21, 2019

Women have been preaching about Jesus ever since his first female followers found his tomb empty. They've been prophesying since the days of Miriam, if not before.

The books of Acts and Romans tell us that women preached, prophesied, and led churches in the first century Church. Evidence from the first few centuries reveal that women continued to preach and hold offices within their local churches.

But today? Women are preaching on Instagram, on Twitter, on blogs.

They're preaching at conferences, Bible studies, retreats.

They're preaching everywhere but in church on Sunday mornings.

Where are all the Miriams? The Lydias? The Junias? Why aren't their voices being heard within our local churches today?

Why is it so easy to find women praying, prophesying, and preaching on Instagram but so difficult to find women doing the same things within our local churches? Why can we can find them on podcasts, on blogs, on email subscriptions, but not on our church websites?

Because our churches are not making room for women to preach from the pulpit, women are flocking to spaces outside the local church where their voices are being heard.

It's no secret that white, male pastors are the primary voices who are discipling our American congregations today. If 50% of our population is female (which is a low percentage, as there are typically more women than men in our churches today), why aren't they being represented in the church's leadership? When our churches don't have female voices making decisions and representing the women in the pews, our worship services, programs, and even sermons are in some ways "men's ministry." After all, if it's "women's ministry" when a woman preaches or leads a Bible study, shouldn't we at least be consistent with our messaging?

I have a theory that the reason why there are so many women's ministry resources is because women don't have a voice from the platform. Have you seen how many women's resources there are? It's overwhelming! Now, don't get me wrong: some women are specifically called to minister to other women, and we should celebrate this. However, I fear that many women create and lead women's material because there doesn't seem to be very many other opportunities available to them. Think about it: when was the last time you ever heard a man say that he's called to "men's ministry"? I can't say I've ever heard anyone ever say that. They're called to just "ministry."

This isn't just about churches who refuse to ordain women -

Even churches who do recognize female preachers are not hiring, mentoring, or inviting women to share the pulpit.

If we look at our elder boards and preaching calendars and notice that women are not being represented well, we need to start making room for them. We need to start filling our platforms with women, and not just during times when we're out of town, not just because we're desperate for a pulpit to fill. We need to grant women these positions because their voice matters and they represent a segment of the image of God that men cannot represent alone. This is where it gets hard: to make room, you sometimes need to step aside or relinquish control. Handing the decision-making and the microphone over to others is one of the most mature marks of a leader.

Church, there are Priscillas and Deborahs and Huldahs and Junias and Chloes and Phoebes and Johannas in our pews.

Their mouths are already overflowing with sermons - they're just not being heard in our churches.

5 Facts About My Genesis Commentary

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wow, how did my name get on THIS?

I'm as shocked as all of you are that my name somehow stayed on this project - I kept waiting for the editors to pull it all the way up until it was published. Alas, I somehow fooled them into believing that I actually know things about the Old Testament and... stuff!

The fact that I was a contributor says a whole lot about my co-writer (and editor of the series), Alex, and far less about me. Alex has been one of my biggest champions and cheerleaders. I wouldn't be where I am without his professional mentorship, and I'm grateful to him for believing in me.

Here are five more things you need to know about this commentary:

1. Alex Varughese may be a giant of an Old Testament scholar, but he needed my celebrity status to really sell this book.

2. Jesus endorsed this commentary, but we had to cut his foreword because we were limited in space.

3. I finished my section a whole year in advance of the due date because I looked at the date wrong (as far as "fails" go, I'm sure glad it was early instead of late). This mistake's the making of a horror movie: the manuscript has been haunting me and tormenting me ever since. Now that this book is published, I can finally lay that ghost to rest... I think.

4. Fundamentalists break three commandments just thinking about this commentary (four if it's read in conjunction with Joseph Coleson's work on Genesis 1-11).

5. The green spine looks really great on your shelf, so even if you never open it, you'll have great home decor!

My section is the Joseph stories (chs. 37-50), so if you find any typos in this section... it's all on me.

And if you do happen to learn something from reading it... it's all on God.

Snag a copy here!

We Need Better Disciples, Not More Leaders

Monday, October 14, 2019

As a discipleship pastor, I'm always inundated with lots of church resources - some of which I've subscribed to, some of which make me wonder who's on the internet selling out my information to the highest bidder.

Over and over again, I see words like "influence," "reach," and "development" thrown around like confetti. I can't tell you how many articles, podcasts, and book titles I read that sound something like this:

"7 Traits of Effective Church Leaders"
"How to Become Influencers in a Digital Age"
"5 Steps for Developing a Larger Reach"
"The Do's and Don't's of Recruiting Leaders"
"Ways to Lead a Successful Team Without Providing Snacks"

(I've tried that last one and it's impossible, by the way)

By and large, here's what I've been noticing: Christian leadership is trying to replace Christian discipleship.

Now, don't get me wrong; leadership is an important skill to develop. God only knows how much mine needs strengthening! However, in the American church today, leadership has become unconsciously competitive with discipleship. In some circles, I would even argue that it's being presented as discipleship, or at least as a better, more efficient form of discipleship.

The end result is that we in the American church are constantly looking for ministry professionals and those with "leadership promise." We're identifying, training, and empowering leaders instead of making and growing disciples. Instead of being captivated by Jesus' call to faithful sacrifice, we're being captivated by America's metrics for success.

You see, a "disciple" by definition is not a leader - it's a "follower." A disciple is someone who is so deeply in love with his Master that he's willing to follow Jesus everywhere and pattern his life after his.

There are people in our churches who are not gifted at leading teams or serving on committees, yet they faithfully follow Jesus privately and publicly every single day. There are people who serve quietly in their churches and communities and are never in the spotlight, yet they become more and more like Jesus. These are disciples: not people who lead teams or people who have thousands of Instagram followers, but people whose love for Jesus flows into their daily practices and relationships.

Not every Christian is called to become a leader, but every Christian is called to be a follower.

You can be a really great leader without being a disciple. Unfortunately, I fear that this is what many of our pastors and lay leaders have become. 

Jesus' invitation to us is to "come and follow me." If we who are leaders in the local church are not actively following Jesus, then we can't invite others to follow our example. If we can't say as Paul said, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ," then we really have nothing to offer (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Church, the world needs better disciples, not more leaders. Thanks to our 21st-Century technology, we can find Christian leaders just about everywhere from the convenience of our phones. Disciples, though - the die-hard followers who resiliently lay down their lives and model Christ's love when the camera isn't rolling and the "likes" aren't accumulating - are much harder to find.

Available Now: Revelation Study

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Once upon a time, I wrote a master's thesis about the influence of the Old Testament on the book of Revelation. It was as geeky as it sounds - alas, I am a theonerd. For years, I forgot about it (as one often does with school papers) until last year when my small group expressed an interest in this often misunderstood and misinterpreted book.

What began as a weekly study morphed into illustrations and articles on my blog. I felt like I was onto something. My Revelation study has been a year in the making, and I'm finally ready to share it with you! This study combines responsible scholarship, imaginative illustrations, and reflective prompts to help you understand Revelation's first-century context. It is my hope that by the end of the study you will notice the following three major themes in Revelation:

1. Revelation is not about the end of the world, but about how to live in light of the world to come. It is not about a rapture out of this world, but about radical discipleship while living in this world.

2. Revelation is theo-political, meaning that it critiques all political powers that claim god-like status or favor. Revelation challenges all forms of "Babylon" past, present, and future.

3. Revelation is not about the "antichrist." It is about the Living Christ. Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, is the key to reading the book in its entirety.

This study is for anyone who is afraid of, confused by, or even preoccupied with Revelation. If we really believe that this last book in the Bible is God-inspired, then it's incredibly important that we understand it responsibly within its various historical, literary, and theological contexts. I hope to be able to give you some of the tools so that you can study God's Word alone or with a group of friends like I did.

Revelation is one of my favorite books, because I believe that it has so much to say to the American church in our cultural moment. This study is available as either a PDF for $5 or a softcover book ($20 including shipping). You can purchase a copy here.

Crafting a Rule of Life

Monday, September 2, 2019

Did you know that spiritual transformation doesn't happen by accident?

Crazy, right? So why do I often live my life as though it does?

This question has been especially present on my mind these last few weeks because I've failed miserably at cultivating rhythms that were spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthy. I worked too much, scheduled too many evening meetings, forgot to pack healthy lunches, dropped exercise, and didn't do much that brought me life. God and I were barely hanging on in my prayer life.

After this whole fiasco, it became clear to me that I needed to re-look at my rhythms. With school starting in a few weeks, I wanted to make sure that I was already doing habits that made me the best version of myself.

How are the rhythms of your life pleasing God? How are your daily habits drawing you into the presence of God? 

This discipline of creating life-giving rhythms is called the “rule of life.” This practice guides us and trains us in our walk with God.

Unlike the goals we often set for ourselves, the “rule of life” helps us not to do—but to become.

There are lots of great resources out there about what a rule is and how to create one, but what I've realized is that many of the "how-tos" are overwhelming for me. Ironically, there are too many rules and guidelines. To me, this is something that should be life-giving and simple in form. So I've created my own simple chart which you are welcome to use.

Spend some time this fall examining your current habits—both on a daily and weekly basis. How are you currently making space to connect with God? What are some habits (good or bad) you need to let go of in order to make room for God’s presence? This may include avoiding certain activities, such as hurrying, stretching yourself beyond your limits, overeating, or watching violent shows.

What are some rhythms you can put in your life to help you connect with God more fully and more regularly? Don’t limit yourself to simply reading the Bible or praying, although these practices are a great starting point. Your rule of life can also include such things as: spending time in nature, exercising, silence and reflection, Sabbath, days alone with God, time with life-giving people, creating, etc.

Spiritual transformation doesn't happen by accident; we need to make the space and rhythms for God to work in us.

Christianity is Political (Just Not the Way We Think It Is)

Monday, August 26, 2019

I am very careful about writing or posting about politics. Not because I have no political opinions or convictions, but because I take my role as a leader in the Church seriously.

I strongly believe that when Christians become partisans they become puppets and tools, thus forfeiting their prophetic calling.

At the same time, deep concern and horror for the American church have been raging within me. The words keep bubbling up with no place to go. The words of Jeremiah the prophet come to mind: "If I say, 'I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,' then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot" (Jeremiah 20:9).

Friends, I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot any longer.

Therefore, please hear me when I say this: I have to talk about politics. Specifically, I have to talk about American Christianity's obsession with President Trump, not because he's Republican or conservative, but because he's currently in power, 81% of white evangelicals voted for him, and this is the political reality we live in right now.

Let's name this reality: in our quest to assuage our fears over not being the dominant religious and cultural power, we as American Christians are desperate for some sort of political power. 

Ever since the days of the early church, there has been a strong temptation to mingle the politics of the Kingdom with the politics of the Empire. And today we are so desperate to make America a "Christian nation" that we as a people group have compromised not only our prophetic calling - we have also compromised our worship of the One True God.

I believe that many of the 81% didn't just vote for a single issue; I believe that many of them sub-consciously or even consciously voted to "win back" an Americanized version of Christianity. It wasn't just a political vote - it was a religious vote. And we continue to vote religiously every time we remain silent, make excuses, or justify the resulting un-Christlike policies and rhetoric.

Do you hear me, American church?

We've exchanged the authenticity of our Christian faith for the gain of political power.

It's the worst trade I can think of, akin to Esau trading his birthright for a single bowl of stew.

We've seem to have completely forgotten that Christianity is extremely political - only not in the way we think it is.

When we think about politics and start mixing our faith into it, we become extremely dualistic. We're either one or the other. Jesus is either on the side of the Republicans or he's on the side of the Democrats. You either support caring for the pregnant teenager and her unborn baby or you support caring for undocumented children at the border. I am reminded of the messenger that God sent to Joshua. Joshua posed the question that seems to be on many American Christians minds today: "Are you for us or for our enemies?”

"Neither," the messenger responds (Joshua 5:13-14).

Christianity is political in that it envisions an entirely different reality that is "neither," and this reality challenges the politics of the world. When we confess that Jesus is Lord, we are confessing that Caesar is decidedly not lord.

Because Jesus is Lord, it means that we as the Church bow to no one else. Because Jesus is the Living One, it means that no one else is the Chosen One, no matter how explicitly or implicitly political powers may claim to be (and they all do, Republican and Democrat alike).

We as God's people are not called to be a political power or a national identity; we are called to be the Church, the Bride of Christ. When we get in bed with Babylon, we are no longer faithfully following the Lamb.

Last year, Trump warned Christians that they were “one election away from losing everything” if the GOP lost. If this is true, then we're confusing the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God.

We don't lose everything if a preferred political party loses. We lose everything when our faith depends upon the outcome of an election. 

We lose everything when we preach another gospel.

And I fear that the American church is presently preaching the gospel of the Empire.

The Spiritual Discipline of Outcry

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

I am really good at being outraged.

It really doesn't take much for any of us, does it? Political rants, racist and sexist language, legalistic interpretations of Bible passages, ignorance, bullying, Netflix series spoilers...

Our responses sound something like this: "Can you believe this?! I'm shocked that someone like him would say that. She's crazy! What kind of world are we living in? Who even thinks that way anymore? Why on earth did they feel the need to reveal that surprise twist ending?!"

Our church gatherings, work meetings, gym teams, small groups, dinner tables, and social media feeds are brimming with no shortage of things that can easily anger us. As I've found myself in a pattern of becoming outraged, I'm learning that while outrage sometimes has its place, it is no substitute for genuine outcry.

You see, when I'm outraged, I'm directing my anger at something or someone external to me. When I'm outraged, it's someone else's fault. It's the Democrats, it's the Republicans, it's the president, it's the people who live in the South, it's my neighbor, it's the immigrant, it's my sibling, it's that church, it's those Christians, it's the atheists.

Outrage says it's them, them, them.

When I'm outraged, I can easily slip into self-righteousness. Trust me - it's one of my unspiritual gifts.

But when I trade outrage in for outcry, I realize that the sin also resides within myself. Outcry says it's also me, me, me.

Sin and injustice present in the world around me should prompt me to examine my own heart. How have I been unaware of the sin that lurks hidden within me? How am I contributing to these thoughts, words, and actions in my culture? How am I culpable for these wrongs being committed? How can I raise an outcry and repent of my sin?

Outrage is a a gut-reaction, but outcry is a spiritual discipline.

When I humbly examine my heart and respond with outcry, when I respond with lament, I recognize the need for God to perfect his work in me. It's not just them; it's also me. 

I'm prejudice. I'm divisive. I'm judgmental. I'm close-minded. I'm hateful. I'm defensive.

I can't change the Republicans or Democrats or the president or those Christians. But I can open myself up God's Spirit so that he can change me.

"Our Ancestors Owned Slaves" and Other Awkward Family Conversations We Need to Have

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

At my last family gathering, I was casually discussing movies with Back actors when a family member interrupted to ask, "Did you know that our ancestors owned and sold slaves?"


What do you say after that? "Pass the biscuits, please?" My initial reaction was to be defensive, or to deflect the blame. As a white person myself, I know how easy it is for white people to become uncomfortable when race comes into a discussion, let alone when the conversation reveals your family's ugly history. After all, what do the decisions of white people from hundreds of years ago have to do with me today? We're quick to say, "I wasn't there - that wasn't my fault."

Today is Juneteenth, the Emancipation Day of African Americans. This holiday reminds me that even though slavery was abolished years ago, Black people are far from being "emancipated" here in my country. The effects of what my ancestors started two hundred years ago are still seen today in how our culture treats and interacts with people of color.

The United States is a racially illiterate country. We claim to have "color blindness," and even though this may be said with good intentions, this just serves as an excuse to avoid the topic of race altogether. We proclaim that race is meaningless, a social construct, yet we're deeply divided by race. We as white people rarely realize it - we're so used to the temperature of our cultural water. White people dominate the social hierarchy. Our country has a system of racism embedded within its very foundations. I may be against racism as an individual, but racism is so much more than individual choices. Racism, by definition, is a system, and I still greatly benefit from this system that is controlled by people who think and look like I do. And the fact that my ancestors owned slaves completely reinforces this point: the consequences of their decisions are still very much present today.

The truth is, even though I wasn't there hundreds of years ago, even though I had no say in the horrors my ancestors committed, this history is part of my collective memory and collective identity as a white woman.

It may not be my fault.
But it is my problem.

It's my problem that 54% of white evangelicals feel threatened by our culture's changing ethnic demographics. It's my problem that the election of racist leaders and politicians (one of whom is the president) is largely due to the votes of white Christians. It's my problem that the area in which I live is highly segregated, none more so than the local churches (a symptom of a national problem). It's my problem that my race has a huge sense of entitlement and privilege, and when challenged, falls into patterns of white fragility. It's my problem that Blacks have the highest poverty rate in the country. It's my problem that Black drivers in Missouri are 91% more likely to be pulled over by police than white people (and that's just one state out of 50). It's my problem that Black men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Grey, Philando Castillo, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Alton Sterling, to name just a few, have been shot and killed by police. It's my problem that Black (and Hispanic) men are over-represented in prison. It's my problem that hate crimes against people of color have been on the rise in the past few years.

It's my problem that people of color have been saying these kinds of things for years, but other white people might actually listen to me because I have "authority" as a white person.

I still have so much to learn in how to own and fix my problems. I have a long way to go in understanding my culture's deep racial divide and the ways that I, as a white woman, have perpetuated and benefited from it. I have so much deep listening to do, and if I said something wrong in this post, I hope that my readers who are people of color will correct me.

Because of the God I believe in, I know that change is possible. Juneteenth gives me hope - change happened 154 years ago. And if we want change to happen today, we need to start having these awkward conversations with both our family members and our friends. We need to enter into the tension.We can't constantly rely on people of color to educate ourselves.

It's OUR problem. Let's own it and do something about it.

For further learning:
Why It's So Hard to Talk to White People About Race (Article)
I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Book)
Beyond Color Blind (Book)
Why It's So Hard to Change Our Minds (Webcomic)
Slavery to Mass Incarceration (Video with beautiful art)
Allegories on Race and Racism (TED talk)
Color Blind or Color Brave? (TED talk)
Be the Bridge to Racial Unity Facebook Group

Why I Haven't Left the Church

Monday, May 27, 2019

The American church has a current obsession with talking about the "nones." This segment of the population, the group that claims no religious affiliation at all, is the subject of just about every trending study. They're the scapegoat, the problem, the evidence of our culture's moral decline.

What I fear that the American church fails to realize, however, is her culpability in this emerging demographic. Most "nones" didn't start as "nones." No, most "nones" were at one point part of the church. They just decided that the church wasn't for them.

They were "dones" before they became "nones." And I totally get why.

I have seen the Church be capable of unspeakable horrors. I've seen churches place the appeasement and comfort of the attendees over her mission to love and redeem the hurt and broken. I've seen churches worship political platforms and nationalistic identities over and against the One who was slain. I've seen churches bully and abuse their staff members and lay members. I've seen churches silence prophetic voices, perpetuating self-promotion and self-preservation over Jesus' call to grace and justice.

I've wrestled and cussed and railed and lamented. I've become frustrated, angry, indignant, and cynical.

But then I think about what the Church could be. I remember the time a church gave me permission to ask hard, uncomfortable questions without passing judgment. I remember the time a church strategically moved into a specific neighborhood because they wanted to live with and meet the physical needs of the impoverished people who lived there. I remember a time when a church radically welcomed LGBTQ people, offered their building as a place for the homeless to stay, fully funded a Syrian refugee family's immigration. I remember when a church cried with me, prayed with me, and sat with me when my heart was breaking.

This is what the Church is capable of. This is what God's kingdom looks like. This is why I believe it's important to do life and mission with other individuals who are committed to God's beautiful dream of God's kingdom being realized here on earth as it is in heaven.

More often than not, the American church fails to reflect this ideal. And it is because of this failure that the American church is dying. We're quick to put the blame on the "nones" or the "dones," blind to the ways that we have often chased people out of the church. It's easy to blame the quitters, but it takes some hard, honest examination to admit that the fault may lie within our own churches.

There have been several occasions when I've wanted to throw in the towel.

But then I remember that if I love Jesus, then I have to love his friends. They're a package deal.

Church is messy. But I'm committed to being a change-agent in the church right now, so that when the new church rises from the ashes, she remembers who Jesus has called her to be.

I've taken much needed breaks from church to reassess and heal. I've taken breaks to find God and to refocus on the mission. But at the end of the day, I'm not ready to give up yet.

God hasn't give up on his Church, and I hope that one day, in the midst of breaking bread, worshiping, and reading Scripture together, we can learn to how love and forgive and reconcile again and again.

So You're in a Spiritually Abusive Church. Now What?

Monday, May 6, 2019

In my last post, I identified 10 signs that you're in an abusive faith system. Spiritual abuse is real, and the very worst thing we as a Church can possibly do is avoid talking about it. Maybe you read some of the signs on the list, resonated with them, and are asking, "Now what?" Here are 5 ways you can begin the healing process.

1. Talk to some trusted individuals.
When I was in the middle of spiritual abuse and felt like I was going crazy, I talked to a trusted friend who is a pastor. I made an appointment with a spiritual director. I talked to a man in my small group who specialized in corporate conflict resolution. All three of them cried with me and told me that what I was experiencing was "abuse."

Carefully pray about who to approach, but don't be afraid to voice your concerns to some trusted friends and mentors, even if it means breaking one of the "rules." You shouldn't be alone and isolated in your abuse, and in order to properly understand what it is you are experiencing, you need some outside perspective. Be honest and vulnerable. It's worth it.

2. Call the abuse what it is.
At first I was taken aback that my friends and mentors (and later counselor) used the word "abuse" to describe my situation. "Abuse" is a strong word, and I don't throw this word around lightly, especially with regard to a church. But with their counsel, I realized that there was no other way to describe it. We need to call this kind of system exactly what it is: abuse.

When we're in abusive situations, we tend to rationalize our hurt so we don't fall apart. If we call the abuse what it is, we might not be able to continue functioning within the system. This rationalization distorts how we view our own experience and produces a false narrative out of the need for sheer survival. But when you name the system, you can begin to understand the ways you've been manipulated and used. You can assess the situation accurately. You can stop making excuses for your hurt and pain. You can stop burying the grief. And most importantly, you can get help.

3. Pray about whether to stay or leave.
Pray. Pray. Pray. Fast if you are able. Seek God fervently in this season and listen to what he has to say. Ask your trusted friends and family members to pray and fast with you. Step away from the church for a while to gain perspective - we often can't see clearly when we're in the middle of an abusive situation.

If God is telling you to move on, then go bravely. Be honest with the leadership about why you are leaving, but do so humbly and without anger. If you are considering staying, know this: God does not want his kingdom to advance at your emotional and spiritual expense. If you do not have them already, put some clear boundaries and support systems in place for the remainder of your time at the church (and beyond).

4. Get counseling and silence the shame.
When our bodies hurt, we see a doctor. When our minds and spirits are hurt, however, we tend to try to heal and mend on our own, especially within the Church. But there is great wisdom in seeing a counselor, even if you feel like you are processing everything relatively well. A counselor can assess your perceptions of reality, guide you to the truth of situations, and give you some tools to heal. There is no shame in needing help or in seeking help from a professional. And you should silence the shame right now that says you deserved the abuse or should be strong enough to heal from it on your own. This abuse does not define you, and you do not need to live in fear and shame.

5. Break the cycle.
Don't fall into the same cycle of shame and guilt by broadcasting the church's flaws to everyone you know. There is a big difference between being honest about your experience and telling everyone you know about it. Let people approach you. Be truthful (call the abuse what it is), but speak about it the way Jesus would if he were in your shoes.

As much as this church may have hurt you, God still loves her. Pray that God will redeem his people and restore it to a right relationship with him. Pray that God will right the wrongs and heal others who have also been abused. And pray that God will heal you and guide you through the process of forgiving your abusers.


Healing from abuse takes time. Give yourself lots of grace. Forgive over and over and over again. And trust that God can turn such an ugly, horrific experience into something beautiful for his kingdom. God feels every pain you feel, sees every tear you cry, and he will not waste it. God is a master redeemer, even of abuse wrought by his own people.

God has a better story for you.

10 Signs You're in an Abusive Faith System

Today marks the anniversary of when I resigned from a church because of spiritual abuse. It was both one of the bravest things I've ever done and one of the most painful things I have ever done. Often times pain comes with bravery.

When I resigned, I sat down and wrote a statement that detailed why I was leaving. I prayed for days over what to say, and I shared my statement with some trusted mentors and pastors to make sure I was being both truthful and gracious. I memorized it so I was ready to give my statement at any moment's notice. Let me tell you, crafting my story and memorizing it in such a way was at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The very next week, without any prior notice, I was given the opportunity to share with the staff about why I was leaving. I mentally pulled up my prepared statement and told my co-workers that I was leaving because "my values were incompatible with the values that have been placed on the staff."

Immediately afterwards, the leadership brought me into a meeting where I was bullied, belittled, accused, and blamed. It was traumatizing. I'm still recovering from it.

I've deliberated even writing about my experience, fearful that my desire to share my story would come off as either divisive or vengeful. Neither of those is my intent. The reason why I tell my story is because spiritual abuse is something that we need to talk about. Bringing this ugly, hidden side of the church into the light diminishes its power.

One of the very worst things we can do is pretend that spiritual abuse doesn't exist.

I was first exposed to spiritual abuse when I was teaching a college class on the Biblical narrative. After our session on the early church in the book of Acts, a middle-aged woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and recounted her story about how the church she had attended for over 20 years abused her and her family. The lead pastor eliminated all forms of accountability, created an us-versus-them culture, and shut down all opposition. Listening to her story, I wondered how anyone could be a part of a church like that. As this woman shared her doubts and confusions, I wondered how you don't realize that what's happening is a form of abuse.

And then I experienced it myself.

Spiritual abuse is subversive. It's not always apparent, especially to those who are caught up in it. Most of the "rules" and behaviors are left unspoken. Thankfully, my experience became a little clearer when the leadership gave the staff five things we needed to do "in order to not be fired." Four out of the five rules actually make this list. But not everyone's experience is as clear as mine was.

Now, from telling my story, I have been amazed at 1) how little known spiritual abuse is; 2) how many people have experienced spiritual abuse but haven't had the words to name it for what it is.

I am by no means an expert on spiritual abuse, but here are 10 ways I've seen it through my own experience and the experiences of others brave enough to tell me their stories:

1. The church has a celebrity pastor who falls into defensiveness and pride.
This is a pattern we see in many large churches, especially evidenced last year with the "Church Too" movement. This pastor may have started out with strong leadership skills, but the idolatry of his personal platform causes him to slip into protectionism, which is often birthed out of insecurity. Suddenly, the leader's image takes priority. He becomes equated with the church, and the church could not function in his absence. Most decisions boil down to whether it makes him look good. He considers himself above critique and surrounds himself with "yes people" who will always agree with him. His insecurities cause everyone else's insecurities to spiral out of control.

2. The biggest priority is guarding the image of the church and its leaders. At all costs.
Those who are part of the church are not permitted to tell truth. They are forbidden to point out reality and to question or critique. They must maintain positive attitudes at all times and are not allowed to express their feelings unless they make the church look good. Protecting the reputation of the church and those in power becomes more important than protecting the dignity of those the church serves. Further, when the prophetic gift is silenced, self-promotion and self-perpetuation becomes the mission. Without prophetic criticism, the church's calling is lost and replaced with this new self-serving identity.

3. There is no accountability.
Whether it comes about intentionally or by accident, the church structure eliminates all forms of accountability. The leaders remove themselves from the accountability of the staff, the elders in the church, or even the denomination at large. Church boards or advisory councils are non-existent, and if they do exist, they were hand-selected by the head pastor and serve as more "yes men." Those who have concerns with church decisions are forbidden from approaching the boards and councils, often threatened with punitive consequences.

4. You are forbidden from talking to anyone about a conflict.
Obviously, there is a huge difference between gossiping and seeking advice and support. The former is characterized by a spirit of animosity; the latter is characterized by humbleness and a desire for reconciliation. Preventing staff or laypersons from talking about their problems creates further problems, sometimes even perpetuating abusive relationships that may already exist. It breeds isolation and prevents Biblical conflict resolution from taking place. And because you can't talk about problems or address the dysfunction, you start wondering whether you are crazy (you're not).

5. You are not permitted to do anything outside of your role.
Don't get me wrong: it's important for staff members and volunteers to achieve their objections and complete their ministry responsibilities with excellence. However, when they are prevented from serving in other ministry areas and are told to "stay in their lane," control and dominance have become priorities. Very rarely is calling confined to a lane, and churches do themselves a disservice by limiting the Holy Spirit's empowerment. When people are told to stay in their lane, the efficiency of the local church's system is given priority over what is ultimately best for the kingdom in the long run.

6. Fear and shame become weapons to drive people into submission.
There are no healthy systems for conflict resolution. Instead, tactics of fear, intimidation, and isolation are employed in order to "resolve" conflicts. Shame is systemic. Anxiety becomes a strong reality and staff members or laypersons do not know who they can trust.

7. There is an "insider" culture.
The main leader creates a special following, and these people feel lucky that the pastor is paying attention to them. All those on the outside want to be part of this favored inner circle. Those who are outside strive to get "in," and those who are already "in" do whatever it takes to stay favored. This often involves staying silent on critical issues so as not to offend the leader (see #2).

8. Numbers are everything.
The gospel of attendance and tithing replaces the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church measures its entire success on how much new revenue they have or how many people showed up at the Christmas Eve services. Often these numbers are conflated so as to assuage the leader's insecurities. Decisions are made based upon what will boost numbers and not on what will further God's kingdom. The leaders do not publicly talk about sin and avoid engaging in any conversation with the culture that may be deemed controversial, lest it adversely affect attendance numbers and giving.

9. People who do speak out are silenced or bullied.
Those who dare to leave their bunkers and declare their truth are intimidated, shamed, and silenced. They are not met with grace, but with judgment. The leaders are quick to protect themselves instead of humbly listening. They do not want to hear any truth that may be at odds with the distorted, dysfunctional reality that they have created. And when someone leaves the church, they are immediately ostracized. Church members or staff members are fearful to continue communicating with those who are shunned, and if they do maintain a relationship, it's done in secret.

10. Your value is based upon your performance.
You are not appreciated for who you are, but for what you accomplish. The culture is one of utilitarianism. Staff members and volunteers are greedily devoured. You are no longer a pastor, but a "ministry professional." The church demands more and more from them. Rest is an afterthought, if thought of at all, and is understood to be a necessary component so that you can work even harder. Ministers and laypersons are burnt out, stressed out, and used up.

In short, I want you to know that spiritual abuse is real.

You are not crazy.

And you are not alone.

My story has a redemptive ending. Following my experience at this particular abusive church, I began a new career at another church whose values have been the exact opposite as the ones that appear on this list. You can read more about the way God redeemed my story here.

Perhaps you have a story to tell, too. Please send me a message. I would love to talk to you and pray for you.

Here are some further resources that have especially helped me process my own experience. In my next post, I talk about some steps to take if you think you may be undergoing spiritual abuse.

"10 Ways to Spot Spiritual Abuse" by Mary DeMuth
Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
    (For a quick summary of the points in the book, see this concise handout and this summary article).
"14 Signs of Spiritual Abuse" by Mark deJesus
"3 Ways to Identify and Address Spiritual Abuse in Ministry Leader" by Eric Stratton
Broken Trust: A Practical Guide to Identify and Recover from Toxic Faith, Toxic Church, and Spiritual Abuse by F. Remy Diederich

Things That Keep Me Up At Night: The Old Testament

Monday, April 22, 2019

(This post is part 4 of my 5 part series on things that keep me up at night. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

There are a few things that keep me up into the wee hours of the night, and one of those things is the death of the Old Testament.

You see, I first noticed that the Old Testament was dying when I was in high school.

I'd grown up learning the typical Old Testament stories, like Noah and Jonah. My Sunday school teacher during middle school was obsessed with teaching us about the Pentateuch. We reviewed the story from creation to Moses over and over again, but after the book of Joshua it was bit blurry. I remember wondering what happened after the patriarchs. How do we get to Jesus' arrival in the New Testament? How do we make sense of these strange books in between, like Ezekiel and Ecclesiastes? It wasn't until my pastor spent a year preaching through the entire Old Testament my freshman year that I read this significant portion of Scripture for myself and fell in love with it.

But I felt like I was the only one who loved it. Everyone else seemed to dismiss it entirely or only like very specific stories because of childhood nostalgia. 

Everyone else seemed to bypass the entire Old Testament in favor of the New. There was fixation on Jesus, with good reason, but this fixation seemed to ignore the ways in which Jesus was influenced and understood in light of the Old Testament narrative. Outside of my home church, preaching was centered in the Gospels and Pauline epistles. Bible studies either oversimplified the drama of Genesis-Malachi (usually by focusing just on how literal the creation accounts supposedly are) or ignored it altogether. The label "New Testament church" was adorned by contemporary churches with great pride. During my college and seminary years, very few of the biblical studies students concentrated in Hebrew Bible.

Just recently, a popular preacher claimed that the Old Testament is only a "backstory" for the main story, and that we need to move beyond the old covenant like the early church did (Exhibit A).

Over the years, I've tried to become a champion of the Old Testament. I've become fascinated with how the Old Testament is read, studied, and preached from, however intermittently that may be. I've been confounded by the frequent comments I receive about why I would even want to study the OT in the first place, seeing as how it's irrelevant today (somebody hold me). 

And so I lie awake at night wondering how we got into this mess, and more importantly, how do we find a way out of it?

And honestly, I don't know yet. I'm hoping that this book I only just recently picked up by someone who is way more discerning than me can give me some answers. But I will tell you what has given me some hope.

The Old Testament may be halfway in the grave, but I have seen glimpses of the Old Testament's resurrection (which is ironic, since the Old Testament doesn't talk about resurrection outside of maybe a passage in Daniel...).

The Old Testament is resurrecting through the faithful preachers who discern what God wants to say to us today through the witness of the Old Testament. It's resurrecting through teachers and artists who strive to help the OT make sense to lay people today (Exhibit B). It's resurrecting through the modern day prophets who allow the Spirit to move anew through the OT's beautiful prophetic tradition.

It's clear to me that the Old Testament needs to make a comeback, and there are trends in our postmodern culture that I believe lend itself to this revitalization. Will we be willing to listen to the new things that God has to say to us through this ancient text?

For God's sake, I sure hope so.

Please Excuse Me While I Have an Existential Crisis

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Christina Bohn is"


Writing a short autobiography should be an easy task. After all, who knows me better than myself? Yet, these three little words made me feel like hyperventilating a few weeks ago. Friends, it's been a long time since such a simple little clause has caused me this much anxiety. The last time was when the doctor said, "I'm going to insert this in..." before trailing off as she consulted her notes (true story).

This little predicate made me stare at my computer screen for what felt like hours as I tried to figure out what came next. How am I going to complete this sentence? Will what follows be...

Impressive enough?
Interesting enough?
Loveable enough?
Just... enough?

What do you want from me, people?

The laughable thing is that this short autobiography I'm supposed to write is for the back of a commentary that NO ONE will read. Not even my own mom will read it. I can't decide if this should make me feel better or worse.

This writing exercise awoke an existential crisis I didn't even know was brewing inside me. All of a sudden, I was wondering, "Who am I?"

I've always wondered whether Jesus had an existential crisis at any point in his life. I mean, there really isn't a precedent for someone who is both fully God and fully human. There's a reason why the deity/humanity of Jesus is talked about so much in scholarly circles - it doesn't get more confusing than that.

If at any point Jesus did have doubts about his true identity, however, they were quickly cleared up at the very beginning of his ministry. As he was coming up out of the waters of baptism, Jesus' Father said, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

This right here is the truest thing about Jesus: He is God's Son, he is loved, he is in a favorable relationship with the Godhead. Here's the thing that gets me: Jesus hasn't even done anything yet! There haven't been any miracles, any teachings, any prophesies... Jesus didn't have to do anything impressive to earn his Father's love.

Jesus was enough, just for showing up. It's like that one class we all took where we just had to show up for attendance to receive full class credit. Jesus was the Beloved -- no prerequisites, no expectations. End of autobiographical sentence.

If God loved Jesus this much but still chose to send Jesus to die for you, how much do you think God loves YOU?

Let that sink in.

Henri Noewen writes that "self-restriction is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us 'Beloved.'"*

You are not identifiable by your successes, your power, your popularity, or your influence. You are the beloved. You are enough, just for being present.

You are enough for who you are and whose you are.

That is the truest thing about you.

Now finish this sentence: [Your name] is...

* Life of the Beloved, pg. 21

Things That Keep Me Up at Night: Heaven

Monday, March 25, 2019

(This post is part 3 of my 5 part series on things that keep me up at night. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

There are a few things that keep me up into the wee hours of the night, and one of those things is "heaven."

When I was a preteen, I went on a youth retreat at a cabin in the woods. I remember waking up early one morning with some other kids and the youth leader, and we watched the sun rise from our vantage point on a hill. It was magnificent. Until the youth leader said something along the lines of, "This is so beautiful, but we have to remember that God is going to come back and destroy it one day."

Perfect moment ruined. Suddenly, this sunrise didn't feel so beautiful anymore. I remember being overcome with strong feelings of foreboding and sorrow. Most of my youth group memories consist of rapture theology and legalistic sexual ethics, so I guess that this traumatic moment is just one more thing I need to work out in therapy.

I wrestled with this "end time" theology all throughout my teen years. I spent a year reading through the entire Old Testament during my freshman year, and low and behold, a major theological thread surprised me:

God was committed not just to God's people, but also to God's creation. 

That God would abandon his mission to save the entire world was troubling. God spent thousands of years committed to the redemption of heaven and earth - why would he then abruptly destroy everything that he had deemed "good"?

Answer: God wouldn't. And he won't.

Thank God.

Both the Old and the New Testaments agree: God has in mind to renew the entire cosmos, starting with the resurrection of our physical bodies. And yet, our Christian language and theology of "heaven" has persisted. It's everywhere, from the bestseller's list to our Sunday school classes to the American church's "Roman's road" to salvation.

This is the tension that keeps me up at night. I don't necessarily deny that this conscious, intermediate state with Jesus exists after we die, but the problem is just that: this "heaven" is a temporary state. Our theologies make heaven the final destination for the redeemed, when it isn't.

The term "heaven" is never used in Scripture for the final eschaton (end) that God has in mind for his people, and I fear that our continued misuse of "heaven" as such has caused us to overlook God's plan to redeem all things.

This tension was especially manifested when I served in children's ministry. When the Gospel was presented to kids, both preschoolers and elementary students alike, God's endgame was always presented as "dying and going to heaven." There was no mention of God's plan to restore the world, nor was there any mention of the resurrection of our bodies. I worried over what theological pitfalls would arise because of our neglect to present ALL of God's good news. How do we communicate this life after life after death to children in responsible and appropriate ways so that they don’t have to unlearn their concept of “heaven” when they grow up? And how do we do it without scaring them?

I still haven't quite figured it out, friends. I'd hate to mess someone up the way I was messed up as a kid (I already have enough things to keep me up at night). But here's what I've got so far:

"Because of our sin, we are all going to die. But the good news is that Jesus loves you so much that he made a way so that you can be with him when you die. But wait! It gets better! Jesus has a plan to save the entire world, and he's going to make all the wrong things in this world right again. He's going to fix everything, and just like Jesus rose from the dead, he's going to raise you from the dead, too."

I can't help but to think that lots of adults need to hear this, too.

I hope that one of these sleepless nights I'll be able to come up with a better way to articulate this final hope we have in Jesus. In the meantime, I've repented of the ways that I've previously used "heaven" to describe God's final plan.

God has something far better than "heaven" in mind: God's love for us is so fierce, he loves us bodies and all. He will never abandon us, even when our bodies have seen decay.

Now go enjoy that sunrise.

For further reading:

  • A New Heaven and a New Earth by J. Richard Middleton
  • Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
  • God Dwells Among Us by G.K. Beale
  • Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder

Things That Keep Me Up at Night: Uncertainty

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

(This post is part 2 of my 5 part series on things that keep me up at night. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

There are a few things that keep me up into the wee hours of the night, and one of those things is my uncertainty.

The Christian culture I grew up in during the early 2000's was all about being certain. There were "proofs" for every single tenant of Christianity, and it was imperative that I, a teenager, could explain the evidence for my faith in depth. The worldview I grew up in maintained that the Bible was infallible and the only reliable source. Science was viewed with suspicion and even straight-out animosity. Everyone who wasn't a believer was dogmatic and immoral. And if you couldn't argue your beliefs with the "enemy," then you were part of the problem.

One day, I came across an article by an apologist that argued that the Bible was scientifically accurate. He reasoned that Jesus' proclamation of the coming kingdom in Luke 17:34-35 demonstrated that the Bible maintained a Copernican view of the world. That someone could be asleep in bed at night and another could be grinding grain during the day proved that the Bible portrays a round earth (?).

I remember reading this argument, plus many others, with great wariness. It seemed like this was reading way more into the text than the Gospel writers intended us to. There was no way that the biblical writers could have ascribed to modern scientific views, and I frankly didn't think that their ancient views of a flat earth really even mattered. I started to doubt, and this uncertainty caused me to deconstruct many of the ideas that I had been taught about the relationship between the Bible and science.

Since then, I've deconstructed many beliefs I've previously held. I've torn them apart and put them back together with the new truth I've discovered. It's quite liberating, actually.

Yet, there are some nights when I lie in bed awake at night, worried that I've either gone too far or not far enough.

I worry about Jesus' call to nonviolent resistance and what that looks like practically. Is it even practical at all? Is it okay if it's not? Has Jesus called me to be "successful" or "faithful?" And if my life were ever threatened, would I stick with my convictions to radically love my enemy?

I worry about human sexuality and the complex nature of identity. I worry about how divided the Church at large is, and how she typically sides on either legalism or license. And what if I'm on the wrong "side?" I wish I didn't even have to pick a side.

I worry about whether I will immediately be with Jesus when I die or whether I'll remain "asleep," waiting for the final resurrection and redemption of all things. The thought of even being without Jesus for a conscious moment terrifies me.

I worry about whether I'm being faithful to my calling. I wonder if there is something different that I should be doing. I wonder if I've made the wrong decisions in the past, and whether these decisions have a bearing on my future.

I worry that I don't speak out prophetically enough. I worry that I've remained too silent.

I worry about things that are too vulnerable and too fragile to voice publicly. I whisper them in the stillness of the night, when I can hide in the cloak of darkness.

Uncertainty is hard. It's easier to be certain than uncertain, and sometimes in our rush to escape the awkwardness of uncertainty we make up or accept simple, contrite answers to our questions.

We live in a culture where we are expected to have an opinion or belief on everything, from the latest political policy to the most recent viral video. When asked about our beliefs, we have the tendency to make up an answer and bullcrap our way through a conversation. We choose saving face over hesitation; we choose the comfort of having an answer, any answer, over the tension of uncertainty.

But there is something beautiful about being able to honestly voice our doubts and say, "I don't know." 

"I don't know" recognizes that not all problems can be categorized as black or white, yes or no.

"I don't know" admits that I still have things to sort through.

"I don't know" acknowledges that I'm willing to sit in the awkward, to sit in the tension, and pursue a conviction worth having.

The pursuit of truth is a process that takes time; it can't be rushed. I'm learning to lie awake at night and accept the tension that comes with my uncertainty, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide me into all truth in his time. I'm learning that the only thing worse than contrite answers is silence, so I voice my uncertainty to other believers who are on the journey with me. I'm learning that God can handle any uncertainty I may have, and he will never be disappointed in me for questioning and wondering.

I don't know... And maybe that's okay for now.

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