Category Archives: Christianity

Choosing to Not Give Up On Church or God

Keeping faith is not always easy. There are plenty of reasons to give up on church and God. I’m currently reading a variety of history books that sadly tell the story of a corrupt and hypocritical church. I’ve struggled thinking that this is part of my spiritual heritage.

When Church Hurts More Than it Heals…

I didn’t set out to read about the church. I love history and I just followed a variety of interests I have:

  • I’m headed to Mexico City in a few months and so I am reading La Capital, a history of Mexico City.
  • Our church supports a medical clinic in the Republic of Congo and so I picked up a book on the history of Congo (Congo: the Epic History)
  • Someone mentioned that The Poisonwood Bible was a good read so I put it on backorder at my library. I had no idea what it was about. But it came in the other day and, coincidentally, it tells of a missionary family who travelled to Congo in the 60’s.
  • I have some German ancestry and so I started listening to the historical fiction book: The Castle of Kings that relates the history of Germany in the 1500’s.
  • On the other side of my family I have pietist English pastors. In doing a little research I came to learn that one of them was linked to the Salem witch trials That led me to read a book chronicling the trials.

I’m reading all these books simultaneously and they all share one thing in common: a very sad story of a corrupt church that did much more harm than good.  In each instance the church used its power to gain control over people to their detriment.

Add to these readings the weekly emails I get from people who have read my book, Broken Trust (about toxic faith and spiritual abuse), and a recent politician declaring his candidacy as ordained of God, and it’s all very disheartening.

I Don’t Need That

It saddens me to be a part of something that I believe in so much (the church) yet has such an ugly history of hurting people. Honestly, if I wasn’t fully embedded in such a positive church community it would be very easy for me to step back and say, “I don’t need that. There must be something about organized religion that is inherently wrong.”

Many people have come to that conclusion. In fact, if you’ve read my books, I came to that conclusion many years ago, causing me to quit church all together for a season. It was only through a series of events that I came back to church and ended up in ministry.

I find it ironic that I’m a pastor because I hold organized religion with such a high degree of suspicion and even contempt. I’ve seen the dark side. I’ve heard too many stories of hurt. It would be easy for me to walk away from the church. But thankfully I’ve seen the good side as well.  I know so many people of faith who exhibit true devotion to God, great character, and inspiring generosity,

Why I Won’t Give Up On Church

I’m indebted to these people and the church I’m a part of (Cedarbrook). They are what make me stay in the church. They are what make it all worth my time and effort. They help me to believe that God’s people can actually come together to do good. I see it every day.

I agree with Bill Hybels who has famously said that “the church is the hope of the world.” But I say that knowing that many people scoff at such an idea based on their experience with the church. They would say that the church is the scourge of the world and we’d all be a lot better off without it. There are websites and Facebook pages dedicated to exposing the abuses of the church. I get that, better than you might think.

Two Churches

It’s important to realize there are two “churches” out there…one that is called and directed by God to reveal his nature and serve others and one that uses the idea of God to manipulate others for its own gain (I don’t believe everyone in this second church realizes what they are doing. They have just been fed a self-serving “gospel” and they don’t know any better. It empowers them in an unholy way and they accept it, not knowing that it’s contrary to who God is. Graciously, God still moves in their lives, but not as much as he could.)

If you are a believer in God, I hope you won’t give up on church but seek to find a healthy church and join it. If you can’t find one, then be a part of creating it. Don’t give up. The world needs to see the kingdom of God in action. If we give up…then the world truly has no hope.

If you are not a believer I hope you will not judge all believers based on the evil you’ve seen. Please keep an open mind that there might be people out there who haven’t turned to faith out of ignorance or use religion for personal gain.

Choosing to Not Give Up on Church

It’s tempting to write off religion as corrupt foolishness, but I know better. I’ve seen too much good…too many changed lives. I will continue to believe that God is calling his people together to do good in 2018 and the days ahead. I hope you will do the same.

 

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Five Reasons People Struggle to Find God

One of my roles is to help recovering addicts include God in their recovery process. No small task. To start the process I like to hear their stories…that is, how they saw God growing up, if at all; how they related to God through a religion, or nature, etc.Finding-God-banner-703x201

After a while, some clear themes emerge. It is VERY rare that someone in recovery tells me a good story about their spirituality. If they have found God it was usually after a long detour through some kind of bad religion. As a pastor (another role of mine) it’s been enlightening as to how LITTLE the church has helped people find God. Really sad. But there are other reasons that keep people from God. Let me list what I’ve learned.

Reasons Why People Struggle to Find God

  1. Meaningless church/religious experiences. As mentioned, it’s rare that people tell me how attending church helped them to know God. It’s usually something they had to endure for a season (usually through confirmation…a training process for kids in middle school) before they opt out. Parents want their kids to get the basics of faith but no more. The lesson kids get is that church is irrelevant and God is distant, so pay your dues and leave.
  2. Bad experiences with “believers.” This covers a gamut of experiences that turn people off from God. The basic response is: if this person is a true believer then I don’t want anything to do with what they are into. Here are a few examples of bad experiences:
    • hypocrisy
    • judgmental attitudes
    • abuse
    • historical craziness like the Crusades witch burning, or “Jones Town Massacre.”
  3. Small Mindedness. This could be included in the point above but is broad enough to be worthy of its own point. If you consider yourself an open minded free thinker, any kind of religion can pose a threat. Religion, by nature, channels your thinking into a set format. So religion is the enemy. “Believers” often think in such narrow, simplistic ways. Personally, this is something that I find embarrassing about fellow believers. They like to make things simple, i.e. black and white, pat answers. Don’t confuse me with science or the facts. To them, the beauty of faith is that it solves all complex problems with a few Bible verses. But what they love is the very thing that causes a revulsion in the free thinker. The free thinker sees faith as something that reduces you as a person.
  4. Tragedy. I’m surprised how many people either quit on God or never give God a chance because of a tragedy. There’s nothing like a death to kill faith. It’s interesting how they could handle the injustices in the world until injustice struck THEM. Until they got up close and personal with suffering, they were fine with God. (Surprisingly, the same experiences bring others to faith.)
  5. The invisibility of God. Maybe the number one struggle I hear is that it’s hard to believe in something/Someone you can’t see. People want to touch it and feel it to know it’s real.

I’m not going to attempt to answer these obstacles here, just note them. I’m curious what else you would add to this list. Please leave a comment below.

I will say that if you focus on the person of Jesus that you can bypass all five of these concerns (I’m not trying to be simplistic in saying this. I’m just saying that these five issues are often meaningless smokescreens that cloud the true issues of faith.) Whenever my doubt surfaces, whenever believers make me mad and make me want to give up on the idea of church, I always remind myself that Jesus was a historical documented person with multiple eye-witness accounts of his life, death and resurrection. My struggle isn’t with life’s problems or people that disappoint me, it’s with whether or not I accept the claims of Jesus.

What causes you to struggle with believing in God?

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When Does Celebrating Become Flaunting?

In my last post I made an appeal to the Church to seek unity more than celebrate or defend their side of the current same-sex marriage court ruling. But unity, like love, takes a lot of work.  white_house_rainbow_zps24ptrqtq

For example, unity not only requires that you are careful in what you do or say, it requires being careful with how you are perceived. You can’t always control this. You don’t want to obsess about it. But when the apostle Paul tells us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” I think we can do more than we often do.

What I’m thinking of is seeing the White House lit up in rainbow colors. Whoever thought of that was a brilliant PR person. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and think they did that out of pure excitement and with no malice. They knew the supreme court decision made many people happy and so they threw a party for them. But I have to wonder if the same level of celebration would have been offered if the supreme court decision was 4-5 against and not 5-4 in favor. Or would the decision have been cast as a dark day in America?

When individuals put a rainbow on their Facebook page, that’s one thing. That’s an individual saying “YEAH for my team.” I’m okay with that. But when the government openly celebrates one side of a hotly debated issue it insults the other side. The government has the right to pass a law that people disagree with. I respect that. But it would be nice if they respected all the people who were not represented in their decision by not being so partisan. It only breeds contempt.

Do you see what I’m saying? When does celebrating your win turn to flaunting your win, or worse, mocking and even taunting those who lost? Like I said, I want to think the best. But not everyone is so charitable. To some, the illuminated White House was an aggressive act of “in your FACE!” I think it only added fuel to a raging fire.

In the church I’m seeing a lot of people using the Bell coined phrase, “Love Wins.” Again, I give people the benefit of the doubt. How can you fault celebrating love? But that phrase can easily be interpreted as “Haters Lose.” Do you see how these words can subtly undermine trust within the church? If your side “loves” what does that make the other side? Those who disagree with the court’s decision can easily feel painted as fascist bigots.  Some are, but many aren’t. No one likes to be labeled and then dismissed as a hater.

I’m not trying to be negative here. I just want to point out something that we all need to recognize as a potential threat to unity. Celebrating isn’t always innocent…at least it’s not perceived that way. Wisdom suggests we factor this in whenever OUR side wins, whatever side you are on. Let’s all be careful to make EVERY EFFORT to keep the unity of the Spirit.

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Five Ways To Gather a Launch Team

[My blog is increasingly narrowing its focus to help pastors. Sorry to “bait and switch” some of my earlier readers. Thanks for following my past posts on issues of shame, faith, and forgiveness. But I feel the need to encourage a group of people who often find themselves very alone: pastors.]

I offered to answer questions from a group of church planters on Facebook (Pastor Resources) about how to get their churches up and running. I started Cedarbrook Church with a group of 20 people back in 2003. I don’t pretend to know all the answers. But I’m happy to share what I know.

First Question: What has been the most effective way to gather a launch team?

Five Ways to Gather Your Church Launch Team

1. Perfect Pitch: Before I was in ministry I was in sales. The same principle applies to church planters as well as salespeople: you have to be fully convinced that your product is something people need and what you have to offer is the best thing available. If you don’t have that down, people will smell it a mile away and you’ll lose them in one meeting.

elevator-speech

Perfecting Your Elevator Speech

I’m not just talking about the message of Jesus. That’s a given. Hopefully every church has that. I’m talking about the vision you have for church. Why should people make the HUGE sacrifice of coming to your underfunded church start-up with less to offer than the church down the street?

You not only need to have an answer but you need to communicate it in a clear, concise, and compelling way. Maybe you’ve heard of an “elevator speech.” That’s the 45 seconds you have to tell someone on an elevator why they should buy your product. That’s what every church planter needs to perfect. That’s where it all starts.

It’s okay to stumble around with a few of your closest friends as you develop your “pitch.” But when you are serious about going public with your idea for a church, you need to have it down. People will follow you IF they see you are not only passionate but that you have a VISION for a dynamic church AND A PLAN on how to get you there. You only get one chance for a first impression!

I bet you were looking for cool events to offer! Once you have a compelling story to tell, then just about any event will do what you need it to do. You’ll start attracting people because they will see they you have something that they want…something that is life-changing…something to live for.

2. Start Talking. The second tip is just start talking to people. Then talk to their friends. Once these people catch what you’ve got, ask them to either host a get together to hear your story, or YOU host a get together and ask your friends to invite their friends. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Make it easy in and easy out. Buy lunch or coffee or beer or pizza for a few friends. No pressure. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t bore them! Leave them wanting more.

Keep it up. Keep momentum going. The more people you talk to the more people who will catch the vision. As people see the numbers growing it will add to the excitement.

3. Offer Next Steps. Third tip, offer a next step. As you meet people, ask them if you can keep them updated by putting them on your email list. Then send out a weekly or bi-weekly update and have great events planned for people to come to.

I will offer a post on emails and websites soon. But for now let me just say that your emails and website should be as awesome as you can make them. Not flashy, but attractive, clear and compelling. People will judge you and your dream on what you show them. If you show them a poorly crafted email or website, they’ll know that the church will probably look the same.

4. Create Engaging Followup Events.  Some events should be just get-togethers to build community. Other events should have a spiritual focus to show that you are someone who can help people know and follow God. And other events might be for strategy and planning. This will draw out the doers. Don’t overwhelm people. But you want them to see that this is not just some lofty idea. This train is building steam and is about to leave the station!

5. Make the Big Ask. Final tip, when people have come out to your meetings for a while, take them out for coffee and ASK THEM to join the launch team. Tell them that you need them to make your church happen and why you believe that is. Asking people affirms them. It’s the difference between dating and being engaged. You want to help them define the relationship. You want them to move beyond casual to committed.

If you do these five things well, you will build a team. But you need to give it your best shot. You are starting something from scratch. That’s nearly impossible UNLESS God is moving on your behalf AND you give it your best.

I’ve got three more questions in queue to answer but feel free to send me more.

 

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Out of Exile: Day 40 – Goodness and Mercy

Today marks the end of our 40-day journey in, through, and hopefully out of exile. Thanks for walking with me over these months as I’ve sought to help you process the losses, betrayals, setbacks, and outright rebellion that landed you in exile, far from anything that looked remotely familiar, wondering if you’d ever find your way back. 

My hope in writing for these 40 days, and my prayer for you now, is that you would experience the fullness of God’s goodness to such an extent that it would overflow you and into the life of others. After all, isn’t that what God is working into all of us…a generous heart to reveal his goodness to others? 

Let me quoted Richard Rohr one last time:

The soul has many secrets. They are only revealed to those who want them, and are never completely forced upon us. One of the best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up.

In Scripture, we see that the wrestling and wounding of Jacob are necessary for Jacob to become Israel (Genesis 32:26-32), and the death and resurrection of Jesus are necessary to create Christianity. The loss and renewal pattern is so constant and ubiquitous that it should hardly be called a secret at all.

I hope you see by now that loss, or what I’ve been calling “exile,” is not a misnomer…it’s not an aberration that hits people God is upset with or just “bad luck.” Loss comes to us all. It’s a part of life that we need to learn how to recover from and even dance with it gracefully.

When I lived on our farm, one of the many things I learned about farm life is that death is as much a part of the farm as was life. You think of a farm as a place with many living animals. But when you are there 24/7, you begin to realize that death happens all around you. There is almost a rhythm of life and death. I’d imagine people who work in hospitals experience the same thing.

We live in a sanitized world where we quickly remove pain, suffering, death, or anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. We have lost our ability to suffer, learn patience, grieve and then recover well. As a result we become shallow, self-absorbed people who get stuck in exile, having no idea how to return.

But I’m confident that God not only provides a way to return from exile but longs to restore and prosper us.  David was convinced that “goodness and mercy” would “follow him all the days of his life” even though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Psalm 23

When my wife and I moved off of our farm, into town and back into ministry, I was surprised at how quickly the blessings of God came back into my life. That was in 1997, and they continue today. One day I was reading through Psalm 31 where it says:

How great is your goodness that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you have given to those who trust you. You do this for all to see. Psalm 31:19

I felt like God was speaking to me directly, saying: Remy, you think you wasted seven years. You think the world passed you by and life will never be what you hoped. But all the time you were enduring hardship, I was storing up the goodness that you were missing. And now I’m bringing that goodness out of storage for you to enjoy.

I find it hard to believe that God would want any more for me than he wants for any of his children. I have to believe he has goodness stored up for you as well.

My hope in writing for these 40 days, and my prayer for you now, is that you would experience the fullness of God’s goodness to such an extent that it would overflow you and into the life of others. After all, isn’t that what God is working into all of us…a generous heart to reveal his goodness to others?

I haven’t gotten as many comments since I took a break for the holidays. But I’d love to get your final thoughts now that the journey is over. Please leave them below or email me directly.

I’m not sure how much I will be posting in days to come. Much less for sure. But I’d love to post the thoughts and stories of people who are either going through an exile or have found their way out…especially if you are in ministry. People in ministry have their own special exiles and we need to hear from our peers to gain comfort and insight.  Click the mail icon in the margin to email me.

Thanks again for traveling with me. God bless you in your journey.

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Out of Exile: Day 39 – Double Blessings

I mentioned the other day that King David was confident that God restores our soul (Psalm 23).  It’s interesting to look at how God has restored people through the years.

A common theme in restoration is that God restores you to a place that is better than you were before your exile, often with a double blessing.

  • Naaman’s leprous hand “was restored like the flesh of a little child…” (1 Kings 5:1-14).
  • God restored Job’s fortunes “two-fold” (Job 42:10).
  • God restored Nebuchadnezzar with “surpassing greatness” (Daniel 4:36,37).
  • God spoke through Zechariah that he would restore double to them (Zechariah 9:11,12)

Is it too much to hope that God might restore double to you as well? 

Restoring double implies that the exile is at last over, you are fully accepted, and the gate of blessings is now wide open to you. 

Exile stripped you but God wants to make your life good again. More than that, he wants to celebrate you…YOU…in all of your weakness and failure.

Isaiah’s famous words say it best so I will quote them for you:

1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted , To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners (exiles);

2 To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God ; To comfort all who mourn,

3 To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

4 Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, They will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations.

5 Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.

6 But you will be called the priests of the LORD; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, And in their riches you will boast.

7Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs. Isaiah 61

I’ve been trying to show you a way out of exile. Above all, you need to have hope. You need to believe that God desires your best.

Like the Prodigal, he welcomes you back from exile. But more than that, he puts a robe around your shoulders, a ring on your finger, and sandals on your feet. Why? To restore you. Exile stripped you but God wants to make your life good again. More than that, he wants to celebrate you…YOU…in all of your weakness and failure.

But as with the Prodigal, you have to be willing to receive the blessing. He could have refused, saying that he wasn’t worthy. But he stepped into the blessing.

Do you have hope of being restored?  Is God trying to bless you now but you are unwilling to receive it? Leave your comment below.

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Out of Exile : Day 38 – Traveling Companions

Our 40-day journey is nearing the end. I hope you are getting your questions answered. If not, let me know before this train comes to a halt.

Today, as I continue to offer a way to return from exile, I want to talk about a touchy subject: your fellow travelers. It’s touchy because the truth is you might get stuck in exile if you are afraid to distance yourself from them. 

Some people like exile. They like the drama. They like being contrarian. They’ve never fit in. They wouldn’t know what to do if life was “normal.” 

You see, some people like exile. They like the drama. They like being contrarian. They’ve never fit in. They wouldn’t know what to do if life was “normal.” 

You think they want to return from exile. They don’t. They like to TALK about returning. But they don’t want to return. They like to make PROMISES about returning, but they have no intention of doing it.

Meanwhile you wait for them. You hope for them. Your pray for them. You believe in them…until you don’t. Until it becomes painfully obvious that they don’t want to leave exile. They never did. Deep down they like people feeling sorry for them. They thrive on pity and self-pity. When this realization hits you, you getting a sinking feeling as you think of all the time you’ve wasted on them.

So here’s the hard part: you may need to walk away from them if you ever want to return from exile. I know you don’t want to do that. Exile is hard enough with someone, let alone on your own. Plus, they always lay a guilt trip on you when you mention it. So you give them more time.

But seriously, walking away might be the right thing…for you and them. Your sticking with them only enables their self-defeating behavior. And besides, you won’t be alone forever. Eventually you’ll find other people headed in the same direction you are…healthy people…humble people… people ready to live the new life they discovered in exile.

I think you know what I’m talking about. You know WHO I’m talking about. The question is: will you walk away and return from exile or allow them to lead you in circles through the Wilderness forever? It’s your choice.

What do you say? Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you ever had to do this to find freedom? Let me hear from you by leaving a comment below.

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