Category Archives: God

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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The Shack Free Sermon Series by F. Remy Diederich

the Shack Free Sermon SerieThe movie, “The Shack” was just released in theaters. I spoke on the book for seven weeks back in 2009 when the book first came out. I thought you might find these messages helpful to process the movie and discuss it with your friends. Download The Shack free sermon series below.

The Shack is about how a man (Mack) processes the death of his daughter with God. Here’s an outline of what I talked about in my series:

Part One: How Do Finite People Describe an Infinite God?

I looked at the controversy over the book. Many Christians attacked the book as heresy. Personally, I loved the book because it took a creative way to engage people in talking about God…even highly theological issues.

Part Two: Be Careful How You Judge Others

I took a step back to look at Christians being so quick to judge this book. I talk about how it’s wrong to judge someone’s motives and methods.

Part Three: The Great Sadness (Depression)

This message was about a major theme of the book: The Great Sadness. The sadness not only came from tragedy but from feeling abandoned by God. When Mack chose to stop speculating on what he didn’t know about God and chose to trust in what he did know about him, his healing began.

Part Four: The Shack and a Personal God

Here I looked at how The Shack helps us to see that we can relate to God personally. Even though Mack struggled to know God and often wanted to give up on God, there’s something in him that kept seeking after God. That’s why when Mack got a note in the mail from “Papa” to meet him at the Shack, the place where his daughter was murdered, he felt compelled to go.

Part Five: Questioning the Nature of God

The Shack surprisingly discusses some very theological questions. In this message I looked at two of them:

  • Is God male?
  • Are the Father, Son and Spirit all equal?

Part Six: Who’s in Charge of the Trinity?

I tackle one more theological question that is raised in The ShackIs there a chain of command between the Father, Jesus and the Spirit? That is, does the Father call the shots in the Trinity? Does he tell Jesus and the Spirit what to do? Or is there another kind of relationship between the three?

Part Seven: Forgiveness

In The Shack, the issue of forgiveness is never far from the surface. In this final message, I look at forgiveness and answer the question; How can I forgive when it hurts so much?

Download The Shack Free Sermon Series

Each message in the series has a set of study questions for personal reflection or to discuss with your small group.

I hope you enjoy the series.  Download The Shack free sermon series here.

Please note, these messages are from 2009 and are based on the book, not the movie. I haven’t seen the movie yet to know how close the movie adheres to the book.

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Don’t Let Your Shame Block God’s Love

Last Sunday I spoke about an aspect of God’s love that I have never spoken about before. Most believers understand that God loves them. They can quote the Bible verses. But many believersshame-652499_640 are never able to receive God’s love because they don’t think they deserve it. In their mind, God’s love is for people who have cleaned up their act.

But there’s an inherent problem to this kind of thinking: you can’t clean up your act without God’s love. If you insist on becoming a better person so God can love you, that “carrot” will always be in front of you. You’ll never get there. You’ve consigned yourself to your own personal “hell,” but you don’t even know what you’ve done because you think you know all about God’s love.

Yes, you KNOW about it. You haven’t RECEIVED it. You need to let the knowledge drop from your head to your heart and bring the healing that’s needed.

The issue is: we receive God’s love on our good days…when we are doing well. But we don’t receive God’s love when we need it the most…when we screw up and fail miserably. We resist the invasion of God’s love because we don’t think God wants to/ or is able to come into our unholy place.

You’ve consigned yourself to your own personal “hell,” but you don’t even know what you’ve done because you think you know all about God’s love.

A good example is something that happened to me 20 years ago. I had done my initial study of shame (which I’ve written about since). I realized that shame was not just a topic for other people. Shame was MY issue. My dad shamed me and I faithfully passed it on to my kids.

I felt sick about it for three months. It haunted me. I felt like I had passed on an incurable disease that would affect my kids forever. But then it dawned on me that hating myself and being depressed wasn’t doing anything productive. It only made things worse.  It wasn’t helping my kids to continually beat myself up and live under the weight of guilt. I was letting my shame rob from me again. How ironic!

So I decided to agree with God and forgive myself. If he could love me in my failure, then I could too. I stopped berating myself and owned my shame, talked to my kids about it, and actively sought to not only change my behavior but teach what I learned to others. Instead of wallowing in self-pity I broke the cycle of shame that my dad passed onto me. That’s a good thing! That’s something I am proud of doing.

I mention this because you might do the same thing…beat yourself up over failure and not allow God to love you and forgive you. But if you want to find the freedom that God has for you, that needs to happen. Just think whom you might become if you loved yourself like God does?

You can download Sunday’s message here. 

Download your free copy.

Download your free copy.

I gave away my book on Sunday that deals with overcoming shame. I want to do the same here. Click this link: Healing the Hurts of Your Past. I hope you’ll read it and post a link to the book on Facebook so your friends will read it too!  Why give it away? That’s simple: more people will read it. More people will discover how shame has diminished them and the people around them. And hopefully, more people will find the same freedom I have found.

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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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Pastor, Should You Take A Sabbatical?

I am fortunate to have a church and denomination that understands the importance of taking a sabbatical. They granted me a three-month sabbatical. I took half of it this summer. I’d like to take a few posts to help pastors think about their possible need for a sabbatical and then how to go about it.closed

First question: why do you deserve a sabbatical? Few other professions offer them. What makes a pastor so special (or is it lazy) that they should get one when 95% of other professions don’t?

My first answer is that more people should take sabbaticals…in all professions. So maybe the question is framed wrong. Maybe we should be asking why more professions don’t allow for a sabbatical every seven years.

I’m not going to go into a deep Bible study on this. You can do that on your own. But I will say that God established the importance of sabbath in creation itself.  Sabbath doesn’t mean “rest.” It means to cease, to stop. God worked the idea of sabbath into his creation for two reasons: one, we need to stop for our emotional and physical health. We weren’t designed to go 24/7. Two, we need to stop for our spiritual health. When we stop, we are saying that we not only trust God to work through our effort, we trust him to work in our ceasing.

Okay, so a sabbath is biblical but why for weeks or months?  Isn’t a weekly sabbath good enough? It has to do with the nature of the job. Sabbaths are especially important for people who are ultra responsible, like a business owner. Any profession that requires you to carry an emotional load 24/7, even while you are away from the office, should get a sabbatical.  You need weeks or months to help you to fully cease, disconnect,  and get the rest you need. Taking a week or two off may get you away from your job physically but not emotionally. You need a sustained break to recharge your batteries.

Sadly, many pastors take a sabbatical AFTER they melt down. That’s not a sabbatical. That’s called recovery. I have a friend who collapsed in the middle of a sermon. His “sabbatical” came after his collapse and was more for healing than refreshing. He’s trying to play catch up now and he can’t seem to quite get there. I have another friend who owns his own business. He almost died of a heart attack this year due to stress.

Personally, I could feel the need for a sabbatical for at least a year. I planted a church eleven years ago, went through two capital campaigns, had a building built, and managed a few key staff transitions. It all took its toll. Pre-sabbatical I had unexplained fatigue and depression. Every time I even thought about getting away I’d tear up. I knew something was wrong. But now, post-sabbatical, I can tell the difference. Something inside of me changed. I got the break and refreshing I needed. I’m ready to go again.

In my next post, I’ll talk about what to do on a sabbatical. But today I just want you to consider taking one. Talk to your church board about the possibility.  Some churches offer their pastor a sabbatical every seven years. That’s nice but I think that should be a guideline. Rather than put a timeline on it, I’d go more by stress level. If you have gone through a two-year push to plant a church, do a capital campaign, or manage a church crisis, a sabbatical might be in order, whether you’ve been there seven years or not.

If you are not a pastor, maybe you could suggest a sabbatical for your pastor. It’s very hard to promote it for yourself. It feels selfish. So you will do him/her a favor by bringing it up. My administrator pushed the idea at my church and I was very grateful to her for it.

What are your thoughts? Have you been on a sabbatical? Do you wonder if you might need one? Have you suggested it but got shot down? What questions do you have about sabbaticals? I’d love to hear from you.

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Are You STUCK in Anger? Audio Book

I’m happy to announce that my book, STUCKhow to overcome anger and reclaim your life, is now out in audio format.

STUCK Cover

Now available in audiobook format

SPECIAL OFFER: This audiobook is available as a free download with a special offer from Audible.com. You can check it out here, as well as listen to a free sample of the reading.

Why get a book on anger? Because everyone has anger. But few know how to deal with it.

Anger is something people like to ignore. When it happens, they think it will never return. But sure enough, it does.

Anger often has more control over us than we have over it.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can overcome your anger. Better yet, if you understand your anger, you can use it to find your emotional weak spots and get the help you need.

Don’t give away any more of your life to anger. STUCK will help you overcome it. Learn more here. 

 

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Let God Define Your Identity

Too often we let our failures define us. We let our bad experiences tell us who we are. But Isaiah reminds us that God is the one who should define our true identity: 

Too often we let our failures define us. We let our bad experiences tell us who we are. 

The nations will see your righteousness. Kings will be blinded by your glory. And the LORD will give you a new name. The LORD will hold you in his hands for all to see — a splendid crown in the hands of God. Never again will you be called the Forsaken or Desolate. Your new name will be My Delight and My Bride, for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his own. Isaiah 62:2-4

Isaiah said that when they looked in the mirror, the name stamped on their forehead was: “Forsaken” or “Desolate.” Maybe you’ve seen those same names written on your forehead. But God says:

No, that’s not how I want you to see yourself. I’m giving you a new nickname: My Delight, My Bride. I’m going to restore your glory and so you need to look in the mirror and see what I see.

Start living out of this reality and see if things don’t change for you.

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