My journey has some similarities to the Apostle Paul, minus the killing of Christians part. Although, I have hurt fellow believers along the way. Like the Apostle Paul (then Saul) was the Pharisee of the Pharisees, I was the most Christian of any Christian I knew. It was a badge of honor for me. I grew up in church, I was home schooled, went to Bible College, I can quote the Bible backwards and forwards, explain theology, eschatology, homiletics and hermeneutics.
When I was about 12-13 years old, I knew I did not want to do anything else with my life but be in ministry in some way shape or form, I wanted to help people, I needed to help people. Because of this, I wanted my life to be a testimony that the standards of holiness in the Bible are attainable. For some reason, I had it in my head that if I did not do any of the big sins (drugs, drinking, cussing, per-marital sex etc.) I could be used more by God. That because I had never touched alcohol or kissed a boy I would somehow magically be the next Benny Hinn or Katherine Kulhmann.
You can imagine what type of internal pressure I put on myself and the guilt and shame I constantly lived under for being a normal developing teen with hormones trying to figure out this thing we call life. Not only that, but the fierce judgement of “Christians” around me. When I graduated High School at the ripe old age of 17, I never even considered doing anything else other than going to Bible College.
Over the next 8 years I worked in and with several great ministries. There was amazing fruit from those ministries. People were getting healed, saved and delivered and more, but there was always some level of toxicity or spiritual abuse within the leadership. I did not know any different since I grew up in household with a dysfunctional-toxic-abusive environment. It was easy for me to dismiss or rationalize the gaslighting, disrespectful exchanges, hot tempers, manipulative/coercive behavior as normal behavior from someone in authority because that was all I had known. With each new ministry there was more and more freedom. I could look back and realize the situation I came out of was not healthy because I was in a slightly better environment. However, now being free from it all, I can see they were all toxic in some area or another not to knock anyone, just to point out we are all human and all in process, no one is perfect not even our leaders. A tough pill to swallow for sure, but I digress.
Fast forward to 2012, I was at the peak of my ministry career. I was a missionary living in Mexico. I was a youth and young adult leader, leading a small group for collage and career aged women. I led a praise and worship team at the main campus, led worship at missions churches and mission youth groups. People’s lives were being drastically changed, they were having an impact on their families, it was amazing. I felt so fulfilled and so blessed to be able to live my dream of helping people.
Then to oversimplify a situation, I was fired for wanting to marry my husband. Not only fired, but used as an example of a rebellious sinful woman who chose a man over God. My whole life I had heard sermons and mentoring sessions talking about these people who are in bad relationships and choose their partner over listening and serving God. One problem… that was NOT me. I was not choosing a man over God at all. If anything, he was pushing me and championing me to grow and be better and reach for all the God-given dreams and desires that were in my heart. My reputation that I had taken on as my identity was shattered. Any attempts to defend myself would only play into their narrative of me. There was no winning. I did what I knew was right for me to do, and it was wrong to them. This situation was the catalyst that changed my whole life, the best and the worst thing that could ever have happened to me.
I not only lost my job, I lost the majority of my friends, I lost my spiritual mentors/council, I lost my purpose, I lost my identity because it was wrapped up in everything else. I was no longer looking at the church, ministry and Christianity from the viewpoint of the platform and pulpit; I was looking as an outsider looking in. What I saw rocked me to my core and has caused me to question everything I believed.
Perspective – a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
I was now living with a scarlet letter because someone in spiritual authority disagreed with me as to what was right for my own life. My perspective was changed, I had a new attitude. This caused a lot of soul searching. I had built my life on the sand of so many ideals that I thought this were true and absolute and then when the storm came I found out they were not at all. What else could I be believing that was just man-made ideals and constructs and not true? I started looking back on all the people in my life that I had judged, cut off, told they were in sin, excommunicated. People who were nothing less than human, making human mistakes or doing what was right for them and I did not agree. So many times I had hurt people, or stood by complicit while my leadership maligned them and shook the dust off of their feet as it were. People who thought differently than I did, who questioned authority, who refused to hide their skeletons, who disagreed, who did not fit in the box of what a “good Christian” looked like. It was humbling, sobering, heart breaking.
Like Paul, I was blinded by my religious fervor. I could not have seen anything any differently. There were times that people who saw the truth of the situation would say something. They would confront leadership or insinuate that I was being used and manipulated, controlled. They would come to the defense of someone who had been written off, maybe we do not know the full story. From my very narrow perspective they were obviously offended or in sin or lacking an understanding of living by faith etc. In my blindness everything was justifiable, until it wasn’t.
That is why I love Paul’s story and identify so much with it. Here he was the most religious letter-of-the-law following Jews and he had an encounter with Jesus that rocked everything he believed and quite literally caused the scales to fall off of his eyes. He then went on to preach the gospel to Gentiles, the very people he had been taught his whole life to hate. The people who could never be accepted by God because they were too unclean. In his letters he was constantly writing to the church at large but also to Jewish believers including the other Apostles who wanted to hold onto the law and just add Jesus to the mix. Over and over we see him explaining that we are not under the law, that we do not have to be circumcised, eat a certain way, observe certain customs and rituals requiring Gentiles to change their ways first before they are accepted.
Not a lot has changed in 2000 years. We take something so simple as salvation and make it so complex, so complicated. Many of us Christians live our lives with this inherent “I’m better than you” pride and lord our white-washed tombs over the world. We have become echo chambers where we tell people who look like us, believe like us, live like us, from the same socio-economic class as us that they are accepted and we love them unconditionally.
But what about the muslim family in your neighborhood? What about your homosexual or sexually liberated co-worker? What about the black person gunned down by the police? What about your liberal family member? What about immigrant? Kindness is not the same as love. Kindness is not the same as justice, not the same as being anti-racist, not the same as recognizing implicit bias or being non-discriminatory. These people will not darken the door of your church. They will not respond to your social media post, Christian t-shirt, the condemning sandwich-board-sign of a street evangelist, or the pictures of dead babies paraded around an abortion clinic.
We are not inherently better than anyone. Jesus died for all of us. Let that sink in. He created us all the same, we are ALL worthy of love and belonging. Sin is a non-issue and the sooner we recognize that the sooner we can start loving people where they are. When we realize sin is personal and individual and we have ALL sinned. No one is better or worse in God’s eyes. ALL sin is death and we all live with sins in our lives. Who am I to judge you for sleeping around like you are less of a person and less worthy of God’s love and forgiveness? When I lie, I am proud, I envy, I’m jealous, I have bad thoughts. Remember “he who is without sin cast the first stone” remember to “take the plank out of your own eye before you tell your brother about the splinter in their eye”?
Our job is not to be policing our brother’s or the World’s behavior. God gave us free will for a reason and it is sacred and holy. Yes, people are messy and if I can just control them or write them off when they do not do what I want then I do not have to be brave and set boundaries and open myself up to be hurt by their choices. But that is as witchcraft trying to subvert and manipulate someone’s free will. We have a call to love unconditionally, not to control, not to judge. When I have a revelation of the love of God, that He really loves and wants the best for me in-spite of all of my flaws, despite what I do or do not do, He knows my heart. I can then offer that same love, compassion to my brother in Christ and also the unbeliever on the street.
We as Christians have done the World a huge disservice by not living our authentic lives. By covering up sins, exaggerating or fabricating testimonies, white washing our lives so we can be “an example” to the unbelievers. There is no grace for that. You are not going to get to heaven because you have outstanding impulse control or your blind unquestioning loyalty to a church, pastor or denomination. What was the blood of Jesus for then if you can earn your way in?
The World needs to see our truth. How God comes into our mess and picks us up and loves us anyways. How when you doubted God, when you were full of fear He moved in your life. How when you weren’t tithing, blessings and provision came to you. How when you were living in sin in one area, God set you free in another. How He spoke to you through a secular movie and it changed your life. How you recognized His voice speaking to you through your unsaved co-worker. And the list goes on and on. I am not perfect and that is OKAY!
My perspective on soooo many things spiritual and non-spiritual has changed so drastically in these past 9 years. I am not the same person I was before. I do not believe the same things I did, my spirituality/relationship with God looks entirely different. I am happier, healthier both mentally, emotionally and even physically. I have lost some relationships, but also gained many valuable ones in their place. I’m not here to debate or to argue where the edge of the knife falls on what is wrong or right. Pharisees and Sadducees have been doing that for thousands of years. I am here to tell you to re-evaluate the message you are portraying to non-believers as well as believers. Are you a reflection of Jesus? Are you safe? Can they come to you with their mess? Or do they have to clean them selves up first in order to be worthy of your love and acceptance. Because God loves them just the way they are.
Blind spots are called blind spots for a reason. You will not even have an inkling that maybe you are not seeing the full picture. If you had come to me 10 years ago and told me I was being proud, judgmental, that my “holiness” was as filthy rags, that I had control issues etc. I would have become very angry and defensive and shut you down using all the toxic behaviors that I had picked up from my home life and seen mirrored to me by my spiritual authority. So I get it. I know it is hard. All I ask you is to do some heart searching, start asking God to bring people into your life that will challenge your paradigm. Any strong emotional responses to anything I have written is also a good place to start getting curious, start asking yourself questions, jumping down the rabbit hole, start pulling at threads. Leave space for the the idea that “maybe I’m wrong” and that is okay.