“It’s been awhile, since I could hold my head up high…”
I am convinced that God desires to be for us in this life. There are many times that I question whether my relationship with God is something out of wholehearted desire or necessity. The bible says that “the fear of the lord, is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), and christians interpret and preach the principle that “obedience brings blessing” from passages like (Deut 6:4-9) even though nowhere in scripture does it actually state so…
In my experience thus far in living a christian life, even as becoming a pastor, is that “obedience” has brought me hardship, sorrow, loss, brokenness, and pain.
Some days I blame God, other days I question His existence in my reality. As a teen, I remember His presence, never leaving me, faithful, even on so many times that I let Him down with my actions that were contrary to what I claimed to believe.
I also believe that, unfortunately, I subscribed to the modern christian churches man made religious form of “obedience” that being one of legalism majoring on moral conduct, behaviorism, and cognitive skill. It is easy to follow a formula, and I for sure had hoped that the formula was going to work. But, it never did.
Following the rules
Just like what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:7,8 that “the law” actually “awakened every kind of impurity within him..” trying to live the script of “following God” I learned from my youth pastors and bible college professors only served to produce a habitual ‘give-up, try-hard’ cycle as Jeff VanVonderan puts it. The harder I tried to experience God by being good, the worst I felt when I wasn’t perfect.
I’m pretty sure that’s why God goes on to say in Romans 8:1 that “there is no condemnation” for those in Christ. It’s about grace, not the look good, do good, or try hard. Modern day legalist’s tend to forget this, as it says in Romans 6:14 “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
I remember when I quit believing that grace was for me. I had been trying so hard (and losing…) against my internal struggles that I resigned to live a compartmentalized life. The bible calls this being “double minded.” I wanted freedom and wholeness, but following the prescribed christian script provided no relief — and no way out from the darkness.
Pain as a pathway to peace
When a pastor at a recovery conference shared the statement “When we confess our sins to God, he frees us, but when we confess our sins to others, God heals us.” I felt the twinge of resolve, that only the Holy Spirit can bring in our lives. At that moment I knew part of my struggle was self-induced because I had never risked vulnerability with another human being, by sharing secrets through accountability, in order to experience that “healing.” You see that pastor was quoting from 1 John 1:9 that states “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” and he was combining that with James 5:16 which states “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
That was it, the missing part of the formula I hadn’t ever tried.
Out of desperation, every one of us will try anything to get out of pain. Given the right set of circumstances, we each are capable of doing anything. I’m sure that God originally intended the church, his kids and image bearers, to actually be a safe, redemptive community of relationship that was all about wholeness because that’s what He was about.
Unfortunately that’s not the way it is. Our human condition messes things up. “Hurt people, hurt people” as pastor Rick Warren says. The consequences of my confession, honesty, vulnerability… “obedience” has been nothing but loss, brokenness, and hardship.
I do believe that God loves me as much on my worst day, as he does on my best day.
My church did what most modern day churches do. It is is the common conviction of the modern day church that it is their job to dispense consequences to correct sin, and that church leaders must protect the whole from the “rebellious” few. Privately I was excommunicated, harassed, maligned, slandered…by the pastoral leaders of my “restoration team” (Apparently they weren’t successful as I no longer pull a paycheck from that church…). They were sure, however, to make their liable and slander public through gossip in the community newspapers.
But what else was to be expected? We rarely hear of any christian organization, let alone a church, figuring out a way to implement practical grace, that goes against the status quo because they want to reflect the grace we read about Jesus dispensing. That would be messy.
Therapist Heal Thyself
My therapist called it ‘coming to your own assistance’ which really is an act of what Brene Brown say’s is “calling deep your courage.” For me that means that standing on my own two feet, I will be a grace filled truth teller with my vulnerability. God and I are struggling. It is incredibly hard to trust Him above circumstances. Every day I see my family struggle with ongoing consequences that I scream inside “DON’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!” Money is tight, hope and joy distant memories, days are hard. I long for the day my family’s dignity is restored. Starting over is hard, waiting on God is testing, …and we are learning to dance in the rain.