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I’m a pastor and author, plus I consult in an addiction treatment center where I help people consider how God might join them in their recovery.

My goal is to help people overcome everyday problems in practical ways with God’s help. I purposefully write and speak in a way that makes God approachable and understandable.

I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and “like” my Facebook page in the margin. As my way of saying “thanks,” please download the Kindle version of my book, “Out of Exile” for free right now.

Feel free to send me a question. I promise to read it and reply. Thanks for spending some time on my site!- F. Remy Diederich

I Just Launched a YouTube Channel

I decided that it was time for me to finally launch a YouTube channel. Be kind. I’m learning. But I thought you should know that I’ve got a number of helpful videos out there with more to come.

I have a few full sermons that I’ve given over this past year with a number of trailers that capture just a three minute segment of the sermon. I’ve developed a few playlists:

> Overcoming – these videos are primarily related to messages around my book, Return from Exile that deal with overcoming loss, failure, and personal setbacks.

> Prayer & Spiritual Growth – this is comprised of messages on the letter from James in the New Testament and a series I did on prayer.

> Justice & Racial Reconciliation – I did a message on “Samaritan Lives Matter” that addresses the current racial tension that we have in our country.

> Spiritual Abuse – has a few messages where I addressed spiritual abuse and toxic faith.

> Book introductions – I have a couple homespun videos that need to be upgraded. Look for more in days to come.

> Forgiveness – this playlist has four brief clips from a message on forgiveness.

Thanks for your support. I appreciate those of you that have subscribed to my e-list. As you know, I rarely post. I’ll be retiring at the end of this year, so maybe that will change.

Please subscribe to the YouTube channel. I’d love it if you would post any video that you find helpful. And let me know what kind of video content you’d like to see.

Spiritual Abuse in Latin America, Abuso Espiritual in America Latina

I wrote a book recently about spiritual abuse because I’ve heard from so many people suffering from abusive pastors and churches. But then I traveled to Latin America and found the same to be true there as well, possibly even more than in the USA.

Last October, I spoke at a conference of pastors in Concepcion, Chile (C.I.P.E, Confraternidad de Iglesias del Pacto Evangélico) on the subject of spiritual abuse and it was well-received. The pastors acknowledged that spiritual abuse is indeed a problem in Latin America.

Currently, I’m in the process of having my book translated into Spanish. In the meantime, I’d like to share with my Latino readers portions of the translation that are already complete. I hope you will share this post with those who suffer from spiritual abuse in whatever country you are in. What follows is a translation of Chapter 8 from my book, Broken Trust: The Definition of Spiritual Abuse. My thanks to Dr. Eugenio Restrepo Madero for his translation.

CAPÍTULO 8: Definición del abuso espiritual

Doy clases en un centro de tratamiento para adictos. En una de mis sesiones, hablo sobre el abuso. Comienzo preguntando a la gente cuáles son los cinco tipos de abuso. Las personas siempre se apresuran a proporcionarme cuatro tipos de abuso (físico, sexual, emocional, verbal), pero inevitablemente quedan perplejos con el número cinco: abuso espiritual.

Cuando les pregunto qué creen que es, no tienen idea; Sin embargo, supongo que muchos de ellos han estado expuestos al abuso espiritual hasta cierto punto en sus vidas. Una razón por la que las personas no saben sobre el abuso espiritual es porque se ha normalizado, es decir, no piensan en él como abuso porque eso es lo que la religión es para ellos. Han sido condicionados a aceptar comportamientos espiritualmente abusivos como normales.

Por ejemplo, un amigo me dijo una vez por qué había abandonado su iglesia, después de ir allí durante años. Él dijo: “Estaba rojo de ser golpeado cada semana” (refiriéndose a los sermones severos). De hecho, he escuchado mucho esta queja. Esto es abuso espiritual, pero estoy seguro de que mi amigo no lo vio como abuso. Eso es exactamente lo que se suponía que eran los sermones. Eso es desafortunado porque cada semana su valía y dignidad fueron aniquiladas por las palabras del ministro.

¿Qué es el abuso espiritual?

Quiero ayudarlo a identificar las muchas formas en que se manifiesta el abuso espiritual. En mi libro, Sanando las heridas de tu pasado, ofrezco esta definición de abuso:

El abuso ocurre cuando alguien cruza los límites de otra persona y entra en el espacio personal de esa persona para su propio beneficio y en detrimento de su víctima. El abuso involucra una pauta sistemática de manipulación, intimidación o coacción de sus víctimas para obtener y mantener el poder y el control sobre ellos. (página 34).

Continúo describiendo el abuso emocional, diciendo que:

… el abuso emocional a menudo funciona en conjunto con otras formas de abuso. Puede reconocer el abuso emocional cuando alguien:

● descarta sus dificultades, problemas o aportes por no tener importancia o por un exceso de información. ● no te escucha. ● te molesta llamándote y te humilla frente a los demás. ● desecha tus opiniones o logros. ● actúa excesivamente, como controlador o celoso: ○ limita el uso de dinero, tecnología, viajes, etc. ○ te impide ver a amigos o familiares. ○ constantemente vigilándote. ● ignora la lógica y actúa dramáticamente e incluso con hostilidad para salirse con la suya. ● te hace sentir responsable y culpable por cosas que no tienen nada que ver contigo. En otras palabras, siempre es tu culpa. Nunca es su culpa. ● se esfuerza por destruir cualquier apoyo externo que reciba al criticar a tus amigos, familiares, religión, consejero, etc., lo que hace que “camine sobre cáscaras de huevo” en un esfuerzo por no molestarlos. (página 35).

Todos estos componentes también son parte del abuso espiritual, pero el abuso espiritual va más allá del abuso emocional. Aquí está mi definición actualizada sobre el abuso espiritual adaptada de mi libro:

El abuso espiritual ocurre cuando las personas usan a Dios, o su supuesta relación con Dios, para controlar su comportamiento para su beneficio. El abusador físico podría usar su puño para amenazarlo. El abusador verbal usa sus palabras. El abusador espiritual usa a Dios (o la Biblia, la iglesia o la religión) como su justificación y/o amenaza. (página 36).

Lo que distingue el abuso espiritual de otros tipos de abuso, es que una autoridad espiritual invoca a Dios, la autoridad última, para justificar el abuso. Esto hace que el abuso sea mucho más traumático devastando a la víctima. La víctima llega a creer que Dios apoya el abuso. Si eso es cierto, entonces o Dios es terrible, o ellos son terribles … o tal vez ambos son ciertos.

Es importante comprender que el “beneficio” que recibe el abusador podría no ser siniestro. Podrían simplemente anhela que las personas obedezcan a Dios y estén dispuestas a hacer lo que sea necesario para lograr ese objetivo. Ellos creen que saben lo que agrada a Dios y eligen invadir el espacio personal de un creyente si eso es necesario. El fin justifica los medios. Ofenderán al creyente para agradar a Dios, pero no hay daño intencionado. Por el contrario, se ven a sí mismos beneficiando al creyente.

En realidad, su comportamiento cruza los límites personales que causan daño emocional y espiritual, por ejemplo, una persona me dijo: Cuando quería un espacio para pensar las cosas a través del pastor, me presionaba y me decía que yo estaba mal por buscar un poco de espacio. (Sobreviviente al abuso de autoridad)

Algunas veces, el abuso espiritual es siniestro (como puede suponer cualquier víctima de abuso sexual por un representante del clero). Trágicamente hay personas que usarán su autoridad espiritual como excusa para aprovecharse sexualmente de las personas, emocionalmente y financieramente. De hecho, se sabe que las personas entran intencionalmente en el ministerio debido a la naturaleza de alta confianza de una comunidad espiritual. Saben que pueden abusar de personas en el contexto de un ministerio con mucho menos esfuerzo que en otras profesiones.

If you would like a full copy of the translation please email me at remydiederich(at)yahoo.com.

Si desea una copia completa de la traducción por favor envíeme un correo electrónico a remydiederich-yahoo.com.

Am I A Racist?

Am I a racist? That’s a provocative question.

As a pastor, I always feel a certain obligation to let people know what I think on relevant issues. People are looking for answers in a time like this. I’m happy to help people think things through, but you should know that my thoughts are in process (always). 

I’m not writing to tell you how to think or tell you what to do. I’m simply writing to let you know where my head is currently at and to encourage you to think deeply on the topic of racism. 

Since my thoughts are in process, whatever I write today may not be the full story of what I will believe a year from now or even a week from now. I’m in learning mode. So keep that in mind as you read on.

It’s Not About You. It’s About Me.

One thing I’ve noticed in talking about racial injustice is that people get very defensive, very fast. It seems that people are afraid of being labeled a racist. They are quick to say things like:

  • I don’t see color.
  • I love everyone.
  • I work with people of color. I have friends who are people of color.
  • I’m not prejudiced against anyone.

I’m sure I’ve said those things too. To be labeled a racist is an ugly tag.

Let me put you at ease. This post isn’t to question your moral integrity. Instead, I want to turn the spotlight on me. Let me tell you why I think I might be a racist… and how I’m seeking to change my condition.

Defining Terms

It’s always important to start a discussion like this by defining terms. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines racism as:

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

b: a political or social system founded on racism

3: racial prejudice or discrimination

So… Am I a Racist?

Treating this definition (above) as a checklist, let me grade myself:

  1. No. Nada. Not a bone of me believes this.
  2. a: Okay, this requires some thought. I believe that some of our political programs probably support racism in a way that I’m not aware of. I need to do more reading and thinking on this because to the degree that I support these programs (if they indeed exist) then I’m guilty of racism.

b. Racism was embedded in our political and social systems from the early days of our country. So it’s hard for me to believe that there are not still remnants of it. I haven’t given this a lot of thought and that’s wrong of me. Just because I haven’t been affected by injustice doesn’t give me a pass to ignore it. So, I’m guilty of racism based on this. It’s not overt (obvious) but no less harmful. If YOU are the target of racism you have the right to question why I’m not concerned about the negative impact it has on you.

3. I’m not aware of any prejudice or discrimination in my life but I’m open to it being pointed out and will own it if it’s there.

Am I A Racist? Part Two

The dictionary uses technical words. Let me define racism in more common terms as I see it.

Racism is the open prejudice and discrimination where people reveal their sense of superiority to people of color. It’s obvious and ugly. I don’t own that.

But the racism that I haven’t always seen in myself or others consists of the following:

  • When I fail to see the inherent injustices in our political and social systems. Because I’m not adversely affected I assume no one is adversely affected. I never stop to consider how our society could be structured to harm others. As mentioned above, I’m guilty of this.
  • When I see injustice,  but I fail to call it out and seek change. I’m definitely guilty of this. Let me use a different topic to explain what I mean. I once spoke with an elder in a church where the pastor was spiritually abusing people for years. When the church finally fell apart, I asked the elder why he didn’t say anything about the obvious abuse. He said, “Because no one else said anything. I thought I must be wrong.” Yet deep down he knew he wasn’t. I believe I’ve failed in the same way in regard to racial injustice. I could have said more and said it earlier.
  • When I’m unwilling to consider that I might be wrong. If you want to be a humble person, the ability to doubt yourself is a requirement. You need to hold your thoughts loosely, especially when they are first being formed. But even after that, you want to be flexible enough to welcome new information. I can’t own this. Once someone pointed out my blindness toward racism, I started to make changes.
  • When I’m unwilling to listen to the experiences of people of color to learn and gain empathy. In the book, “White Awake” the author said that he was asked once to list his spiritual influencers. Then he was asked how many were black. His answer, none. The point being, how can we form a conclusion on most anything when we draw from such a limited pool of knowledge. You can’t form an opinion on racism without hearing from people of other colors. This point has caused me to listen and learn from a wider range of voices.
  • When I’m unwilling to give people the benefit of the doubt when I don’t understand their actions. We always want people to give us the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we misspoke. Maybe we had a bad day. If I am always quick to judge the other person as having evil intent, then maybe I’m a racist. I think my book on spiritual abuse helped me to think this through because abuse victims are often accused of doing wrong when the focus should be on the abuser.

Over the last two years I’ve chosen to listen and learn. I’ve read a number of books from black authors to hear a different perspective. The documentary “13th” (on Netflix) was very helpful in seeing how racism is baked into our culture. And with the current national crisis prompted by the death of George Floyd, I’ve recommitted myself to learning more, admitting more, and changing more.

Reflections After Visiting Minneapolis

I recently traveled to the site of George Floyd’s death with my youngest daughter. We felt the need to connect what we saw on TV with the actual sites. (I live an hour away from them while my daughter lives only a few miles away).

I appreciate her concluding words as she reflected on our trek in a Facebook post:

》》As our vision clears like the smoky haze lifting after nights of devastating riots…How will we live differently? What part will we commit to playing in the solution? 》》

This is where I believe voices like mine …need to be found: Initiating frank and honest conversations around dining room tables, living rooms, and offices. **Un-learning what we didn’t think we thought, and actually learning what we thought we already knew.** Remaining genuinely curious. Getting comfortable in the uncomfortable. Speaking up for what’s right. Asking good questions. Fumbling through conversations we’ve previously avoided or skirted around. Operating in humility. Making mistakes and learning from them. Not moving on when the media does. Doing it all with a love that’s beyond (yet within) us.

These are all areas I want to do better. Because we must. It ends with us. – Becca Diederich

Solutions, Not Blame

I’m not interested in casting blame. Like I said in the beginning, that only leads to defensiveness and counter-attacks. Like Becca, I’m interested in finding solutions.

Right now, our country is looking for answers to the problem of racial injustice. They want to enact new legislation and bring reform. These steps undoubtedly need to happen but the cure for this disease goes beyond policies and laws. Racial injustice is a manifestation of conversations that people have had around the dinner table, in the clubhouse, in the office, and even in the church for years. Until those conversations change, we may change laws and policies, but the racism will still exist underground and eventually rear its head again. 

I’m asking God to cleanse my heart of any trace of racism and think differently. I’m willing to admit my failures and do my part to make sure that all people are treated fairly and with dignity. I hope you are too.

George Floyd: Enough is Enough

George Floyd was killed while being arrested in Minneapolis, an hour from where I live. When this happens… and it’s happened a lot… I never know what to say. So many people post their well-deserved outrage, but I don’t because it feels cheap for me to just “pile on.” 

It’s easy to post your shock and dismay along with everyone else. It’s the thing to do. It’s much harder to fight against racial injustice every day of the week when it’s not in the news… when no one else seems to care… when it might make people feel uncomfortable.

Enough is Enough

So I have remained quiet and let others speak who have the moral authority to say something. But enough is enough. Two years ago a black friend of mine said she’s scared her young son is going to grow up only to be shot. I can’t imagine living with that very real fear. But for her, and every black parent, it’s their daily…DAILY reality. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s UNJUST.

I’m going to stop here because I still don’t think I have the right to say much…only the responsibility to shine the light on injustice. But I will let someone speak for me.

The Superintendent of our regional church denomination sent out his response to this killing to the pastors he oversees. I think he shares my frustration and sense of inadequacy in the moment.

The Tragic Death of George Floyd: 

A word of lament from NWC Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg

Dear Northwest Conference Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus,

There are moments when it is difficult to know what to say as leaders. Many of us find ourselves in such a moment as we try to comprehend the terrible circumstance that led to the senseless taking of George Floyd’s life in Minneapolis just two days ago. And this, following the heinous murder of Ahmaud Arbery in recent weeks. And the life before that … and the one before that …

Yes, it is hard to know what to say. After all, words are just words if not followed up by actions.

However, to say nothing can also be understood to be saying something, even if unintended. Therefore, this tragic loss of life and the injustice these recent events illustrate cannot be ignored or explained away. Actually, these have never been things to explain away, though sometimes some of us may have tried to do so.

What will it take before we fall on our knees before God and plead for forgiveness? How long will it take? We can no longer say that it is always the “other guy” who is responsible for these reprehensible deeds. For even as we bear responsibility for the nailing of Jesus to the tree, we bear responsibility as part of “Adam’s race” for the dehumanization and mistreatment of others for whom Christ died; for those we are called to love.

I know that I am not alone in feeling heart-sick today, but also feeling a bit helpless. I don’t always know where to turn to or what to do with my thoughts or feelings, lest I do or say something that adds further pain, though unintended. However, on behalf of all of us on the Northwest Conference staff, I express deep sorrow for the pain and dismay that our sisters and brothers of color are experiencing as we know that these are both deeply felt and justified.

We also cannot continue to say that we are “in It together,” unless we are also willing to be in “all of it together.” Our togetherness cannot only remain so long as it serves our own self-interest, without regard to how it is impacting those we claim to love. After all, we are reminded in Scripture that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Or do we?

Personally, I am sorry for not suffering enough alongside those of you that do. I am sorry for the blatant disregard of those in our own communities that have not been given equal treatment or respect as men and women, boys and girls created in the image of God and the nobility that suggests. I am especially sorry for the burdens born by our African-American sisters and brothers at this time, though this is nothing new … just more of the same … tragically.

We have to do more, and we have to do better as the people of God.

Merciful Lord, we are weak but You are strong. We are burdened with grief; our hearts are heavy, our spirits are crushed. Be our strength in times of weakness. Be our shelter from the storm. Be especially near and dear to our African-American sisters and brothers on this day as they feel the weight of this latest tragedy most acutely. Be their rock and shield. Forgive the rest of us for the times we have turned a blind eye to the injustices facing so many in communities of color. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. AMEN.

Mark R. Stromberg,

NWC Superintendent

The Church is in Exile: Part Two

The church is in exile due to COVID-19. We have been kept from meeting for a season. It’s our exile, much like biblical exiles that forced God’s people out of Jerusalem and temple worship. Today I am continuing with brief reflections on the chapter headings from my book, Return From Exile…overcoming loss, failure, and personal setbacks.
Note: I had a major fail on my website preventing people from reading Part One. Please read “The Church Is In Exile Due to COVID-19” here.
The Church is in Exile: Part Two
I started this discussion in my last post. In looking at the chapter headings from my book, Return from Exile, they prompted many thoughts related to how we might handle our current exile.

Chapter 25 – The Discipline of Darkness

When the church is in exile, it’s in a form of darkness. In my last post, I mentioned the importance of traveling companions in exile. One of my traveling companions has been Oswald Chambers through his book, My Utmost for His Highest. Chambers spoke of this darkness:
When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get in the light.
The darkness of exile forces us to develop new senses to hear God. Too often we spend so much time complaining about the darkness or avoiding it that we fail to develop the skills and sensitivities that God brought us into exile to receive. Have you quieted yourself to hear what God is trying to say to you?

Chapter 34 – Reframing the Loss

We suffer loss when the church is in exile. Unfortunately, when something is taken from us we too often only see the loss. But God always brings a silver lining to our losses if we look for it. Good WILL come from this pandemic. It might take time to see it. But if you are careful to listen to God’s voice, he will change you for the better. And hopefully, the country/world will change as well.

Many weaknesses are being exposed right now. Was it Warren Buffet who said that we don’t know who is wearing a swimsuit until the tide goes out? Instead of pointing fingers of blame, let’s fix what is broken in ourselves, our churches and our world (or hand out swimsuits to extend the metaphor).

Chapter 36 – Reframing Your Identity

When the church is in exile, many of us lose a sense of identity. Who are we outside of school, work, church, or our social gatherings? This is an excellent time to make sure your connection with God is rock solid. You are complete in Him. Do you know that? If not, now is the time to establish your identity and worth in Jesus Christ.

Chapter 38 – Necessary Endings

As mentioned, when the church is in exile weaknesses are exposed. That means some relationships and commitments will prove to be unnecessary. I’m not talking about your marriage. Work on that. I’m talking about some friendships where the isolation showed who your true friends are.

Or maybe the pandemic revealed your company’s true colors. Maybe they were quick to abandon you. Or maybe your political heroes showed themselves to be less than worthy of your commitment. Consider what previous commitments need to come to an end. Exile is a time of cleansing.

Chapter 40 – Goodness and Mercy

When the church is in exile it needs to have hope. I closed out Return from Exile by pointing out David’s words in Psalm 23 that goodness and mercy followed him all the days of his life. God takes us through hard times to prune us so that we will be more fruitful. The pruning hurts, but we will be better for it.

I’d be interested in hearing back from you how the pandemic and Stay At Home orders have impacted you and your faith. Comment below or reply to me directly via email.

The Church Is In Exile Due to COVID-19

The church is in exile from COVID-19.  N.T. Wright made reference to this in a recent TIME magazine article. The word “exile” reminded me of my book, Return from Exile and caused me to flip it open to see how it might apply to our current pandemic. (Note: this is a reposting of an earlier failed post.)

THE CHURCH IS IN EXILE

We have completed two full months of isolation and moving church services online. This is our exile, much like when the Israelites were forced from their homeland to live apart from Jerusalem and temple worship. Yet they survived. And so will we.

As I read through the contents of my book, the chapter headings alone prompted a number of thoughts that might help us to survive our exile.

Chapter 2 – The Six D’s of Exile.

When the church is in exile, it’s emotional. I identified six emotions that travel with exile: feeling Displaced, Disconnected, Disoriented, Disillusioned, Depressed, and Doubting. The D-words keep growing as I might add Despairing and Disappointed to a revised edition of the book.

It’s worth pondering each word for a moment to reflect on the losses that have come from your self-isolation, loss of income/savings, and the many losses associated with people getting sick and even dying. Which of these D’s are you facing today? Invite God to join you in these emotions and offer his comfort.

Chapter 6 – I Didn’t See It Coming

No one anticipated COVID-19 (in the general public). It was like heading off on a boat on a beautiful day only to have a storm appear out of nowhere and overtake you. There was no time to prepare. For some, no time to say good-bye. It’s a good warning to us all how quickly things can change and why we need to stay alert. What lessons have you learned from the pandemic to prepare you for future storms?

Chapter 7- Embracing Your Dark Side

When the church is in exile many behaviors surface that you didn’t even know existed. There’s nothing like being stuck alone, or worse, being stuck with a house full of people, to reveal your dark side. You can usually escape yourself with distractions and activities.

But the Stay At Home orders have shut down our typical denial mechanisms. What have you learned about your dark side? Have you invited God to deal with these areas? [pullquote]There’s nothing like being stuck alone, or worse, being stuck with a house full of people, to reveal your dark side. [/pullquote]

Chapter 10 – Denying Your Loss

When the church is in exile, it’s a time to grieve. But we are not a people that understand grief or how to grieve. The idea of lament is a foreign concept. So instead, we tend to look to blame others or bury our head in the sand of false optimism thinking that this will quickly pass.

This denial is seen today by the throngs of people heading back to “business as usual” while we wait for the other shoe to drop. We are in the midst of a seismic cultural shift. Everything will change. There’s no going back. What are you doing to let go of the past and prepare for the coming change?

Chapter 14 – Limited Choices

When the church is in exile, choices are limited. Our country prides itself on freedom and independence. That’s why there is nothing more maddening than to have our choices limited. We don’t like being told what to do and NOT do… especially by the government.

How have your choices been limited over these past months and how have you responded to these limitations? With humility and grace or with anger and defiance?

Chapter 18 – Traveling Companions

Exiles in the Bible were often in groups of people. So I asked the question in “Return from Exile,” who are your traveling companions? I mentioned three companions: close friends and family, the Bible, and special books. We all need positive inputs in exile to keep us emotionally and spiritually healthy. What positive inputs do you have for this season?

The church is in exile. How are you handling it? I hope these chapter titles give you food for thought during these days of isolation.

I’ll be back later this week to offer a few more thoughts inspired by other chapter titles from my book Return from Exile. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss anything.  (I rarely post, so there is no fear of me filling up your inbox!)

Please share if you found this helpful. Thanks.

Fear Makes You A Control Freak

It goes without saying that there is a lot of fear in our country right now due to the coronavirus. It’s interesting because the fear covers such a wide range of concerns. People are afraid of getting sick, afraid of losing a loved one, and of course, people are afraid about their finances.

Some people are afraid we are going to open up the country too fast. While others are afraid of the economy if we open too slow. Increasingly, people are afraid of their own mental health and I’ve heard some parents say that they are afraid their kids will never leave the house again!

But here’s the good news: God specializes in calming our fears. The prophet Isaiah spoke for God saying:

“Do not be afraid, for I have claimed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3

Now, I have to admit – straight up – that fear is powerful. We have to be honest about that. I want to give fear its due. It’s no lightweight.

Fear is so powerful it can cause you to abandon your faith, and as a pastor, I’m concerned about that. I don’t want that happening to you. 

But fear can also cause you to lean into God. Our current crisis can be an opportunity for your faith to grow significantly. I know that’s been true for me. The hardest trials in my life were times when God proved himself faithful to me and my faith grew.  

I’m currently preaching my way through a series on fear at my church, loosely based on the book Fearless, by Max Lucado. In my first sermon, I looked at the story of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection to look learn some key components of fear.

You can watch the message here, but I want to pass on four aspects to fear from that message.

Fear is About Losing Control

Jesus was arrested in the dark of night. Darkness is a perfect metaphor for losing control.

What happens in the dark? You lose your markers, right?  In the light, we know what’s there and where everything is. We can see where we are going. We can easily navigate a room.  

But in the dark, we lose that control. We fly blind, no longer having any sense of direction. It’s disorienting and it causes you to feel vulnerable. Fear seizes on that vulnerability. It attacks your weakness.

That’s exactly how some of us feel right now. The coronavirus and financial crisis have caused us to lose control. We’re in the dark. All of our security has been removed. And it scares us that something might come out of the dark to hurt us.

Fear Lies To You About Your Future

What do you think the disciples were telling themselves when Jesus was hauled away? We’re next. They’re gonna come for us. We’re gonna die.  

Fear connects the dots of past events and then extrapolates a worst-case scenario. Fear feeds off the unknown. The minute there is any uncertainty to your life, fear is quick to flood your mind with horror stories. 

Fear says things like: You’re going to lose your job. You’ll have to sell your house. You’ll have to drop out of school. You going to get sick. You’ll probably die.  

Fear Makes You A Control Freak

Max Lucado put it like this:

Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. Fear unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts. And it turns us into control freaks.

Fear tells you that God’s not in control. You can’t trust him. You need to do something: fast. Forget everything Jesus taught you. It’s every man for himself.  

That’s why Peter pulled out his sword and started swinging at people. He was going to take back control even if he had to kill someone. 

What do YOU do to take back control? What are your go-to manipulations?

Fear Robs From Us

Fear almost robbed the disciples of their calling. Fear caused ten of them to desert Jesus. Peter denied him and Judas’ took his life. That’s the fruit of fear. 

I wonder what fear has robbed from you over the years? What battles were never fought that you could have won?  What relationships were never formed or what relationships were abandoned that could have fulfilled your life?

Max Lucado calls fear…

…the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive…For all the noise fear makes and room it takes, fear does little good. Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors. Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?  

I wonder if fear has herded you into some kind of prison and slammed the door. What would your life be like if there was no fear?

The Foolishness of Fear

The resurrection showed the foolishness of fear. God was in control all the time. God took the worst event in history and turned it into the greatest event of all time.

Let the resurrection stand as a reminder to you that God’s in control. He knows your situation and he can bring a resurrection to it no matter how dark things are today.

Are Christians Protected from COVID-19

I’ve noticed in the news lately that some Christians are misunderstanding the hope of the gospel. They assume that God is always going to protect them from harm, specifically COVID-19. But are Christians protected from COVID-19?

Misapplying God’s Word

I appreciate the intention of believers who want to claim all the promises of God. They want to believe what the Bible has to say about God’s protection and healing. So do I! But sometimes you can misunderstand God’s word and misapply it, like a church in Australia did. They put out this notice:

Health and Safety Notice Regarding Coronavirus Covid-19

Your health is a top priority for us and we have taken a proactive approach to keep our church family healthy and safe.

We are in agreement that this COVID-19 will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.

For your convenience, hand sanitizer is readily available at all our sites.

Our desire is for you to be informed and know that our heart is to protect and ensure the safety of all so we can continue to worship together, all our services will operate as per normal.

For those of you that don’t understand the reference to “the blood of Jesus”, they are saying that when Jesus died, his death not only paid for our sins but it also protects us from any bad thing happening.

I know they mean well. They want to be faithful to God. Every Christian struggles knowing when to apply Bible verses. But this church is operating on faulty logic.

Faulty Logic

If this church thinks that Jesus’ death saves them from COVID-19, then it should also save them from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, car accidents, the common cold, and anything that might harm them. My guess is that’s not true. If it is, I want to move to Australia and go to that church!  

I can’t believe that everyone in that church dies in their sleep from old age. And if I’m right that means they are just as susceptible COVID-19 as anyone on the planet.  

Maybe deep down they know that. That’s why they mentioned that hand sanitizer is available. I guess the blood of Jesus AND hand sanitizer will keep them safe!

Now, might God heal someone or prevent them from getting the coronavirus in the first place?  Absolutely. But that’s up to God to decide who, when, and where. We can’t presume upon God.

There is Superstition… and Denial

During a crisis like we are experiencing, we have to be careful about how we talk about God and the Bible. People can get superstitious with their faith. But we don’t want to use the “blood of Jesus,” or a Bible verse, like some kind of rabbit’s foot or good-luck charm that magically keeps us from harm.

People often use religion as a form of denial so they don’t have to deal with the reality of a crisis. When you feel like you’ve lost control, sometimes it’s easier to cling to simplistic answers and hope your problems disappear.

Let’s not talk like that. It cheapens what Jesus did for us and makes us look foolish in the eyes of the world.

Choose Your Battle

Plus, we don’t want to offer people false hope. It could end up hurting our loved ones and others. Some of the churches that insist on meeting in person have become hotspots for the virus and people are dying. 

Many articles have been written bashing Christians for putting others at risk, and I can’t blame them. That’s not the story we want to be telling. Churches are defiantly meeting and acting like they are standing up for God and their rights, while in truth they are putting people at risk. Where is the humility and the sacrifice in that attitude? The story we want to be telling right now is that the church is willing to lay down its life to save others. Sounds biblical to me.

What is the Hope of the Gospel?

So if we can’t guarantee that people won’t be touched by the coronavirus, then where’s our hope?  What do we have to offer the world?

The greatest story in the Bible is about Jesus rising from the dead. Jesus conquered both sin and death. Jesus showed the world that there is life beyond the grave. 

How does this help us today? It helps by showing us that death doesn’t have the last word. God does. We never have to feel boxed in, like we’ve been defeated. That’s what the Easter story is all about, right?

Jesus was arrested, beaten, jailed and finally crucified. If there was ever a story that left people in defeat, and hopeless, it was that. Jesus’ followers were crushed. They had gone home. They had given up. Their dreams were abandoned.

And then…  two women discovered that the stone had been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb and he wasn’t in it. 

What was God saying? That Jesus had won. He was in control. Jesus could withstand anything thrown at him. Nothing could keep him down. And so if you are with Jesus, you will experience the same victory in the end.  

But…“in the end” is the key phrase. Jesus is our model for life and death. Jesus showed us that he was subject to the evil of this world like the rest of us. He died just like any human would. But the difference was, he overcame death.

Are We Protected From All Harm?

We’ll all die too someday. Newsflash! It might be in our sleep at the age of 100. Or it might be next week from the coronavirus. That’s reality. We have to accept that. Our hope isn’t in a long life on earth. If that’s your hope, you might be disappointed when it doesn’t happen for you or someone you love. You see, that’s where we often misunderstand the Bible. 

God never promised that we’d live to be 100 and die in our sleep. This world is broken. There’s nothing perfect about it. Bad things can happen to anyone, at any time. That includes the coronavirus. God’s promise is that he’ll walk with us through our trials here on earth, and we’ll live with God forever after we die.

One of the early leaders of the church in the first century was the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote these words in a letter to a church:    

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

Paul acknowledged that we may die a premature death. He mentioned the words sword, death, and sheep to be slaughtered. His point was that even though bad things happen, even death…they can’t separate us from God. We will join God in the next life. That’s our hope.

The Resurrection is Our Hope

Paul said if we endure all these bad things without the hope of the resurrection, we have a big problem.

If we only have hope in Christ for this life, we should be pitied more than any people. 1 Corinthians 15:19

Why would he say that? Why should first-century Christians be pitied? Because life was hard back then, especially for Christians. They were often persecuted for their faith. Even killed. Paul was saying, Look, I don’t have any hope to offer you if there’s no resurrection. There is no special exemption from suffering for Christians.  In fact, we’ve got it worse than others. So there’s no reason to follow Jesus if there’s no resurrection.

But thankfully, that’s not the case:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:19,20

The word “firstfruits” is a farmer’s term. It means the first crop of the season. 

Paul was saying that Jesus was the first crop to be resurrected. And all of his followers will be the second crop that is harvested much later in the season. We will rise again with a new body just like Jesus did. 

That’s our hope. That’s our promise. We can look death in the eyes without fear because we know that it’s not the end of our story.

Let’s not add to the gospel what was never there. We have good news. But if the messengers of good news misunderstand and misapply God’s word it will only mislead the world and our message will be lost. 

Forgiving Yourself Questions and Answers

Forgiving yourself is one of the hardest things in life. You might intellectually believe that God forgives you but emotionally you can’t let it penetrate your heart.

Recently, Joanna Simpson asked me to be on her podcast. She wanted to talk about my book, Starting Over and the issues surrounding forgiving yourself. She sent me some questions in advance that I’d like to attempt to answer here… at least a few of them today and maybe a few more in days to come.

Q: Why is forgiving yourself so hard?

One answer has to do with your belief in God. If God is not part of your worldview, then forgiving yourself is very hard because, what’s the basis? What’s your claim on forgiveness? Maybe if the person you offended offers you forgiveness you could claim it. But even then there is often lingering doubt. It’s easy to determine that your victim had no right to forgive you.

In order to claim forgiveness you need to appeal to a higher power… an authority over humanity that has the moral right to offer forgiveness to you. If you reject the idea of God, there is no authority giving you the right to forgive yourself.

But even if you believe in God, you might still find  forgiving yourself hard to do. That’s because people can’t comprehend God’s unconditional love. There are very few models of human unconditional love. We try as humans to offer it, but typically we fail. So most people have never seen pure forgiveness and can’t comprehend it. If anything, we might think that God has fewer reasons to forgive us than another human since God is so perfect.

God’s forgiveness often sounds good in theory, but people struggle applying it to themselves. There’s something inside of them that believes they deserve justice for their actions: payback. So they are intent on punishing themselves in various ways, often with no end in sight.

Q: How can I be sure that God has forgiven me?

That’s a good question because sometimes people just assume that God forgives them without ever asking for the evidence for it. But the best evidence is what God’s people said who knew Jesus.

By one sacrifice God has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:14

Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews says:

He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself (on the cross). Hebrews 7:27

Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John 1:29

God forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:14

God’s forgiveness is so thorough that it leaves us perfect in his sight. There is no residue of sin left on us. Jesus made us fully acceptable to God. He came into the world for that reason, to cleanse us of sin so we could be restored to God.

Q: I don’t feel forgiven? Shouldn’t I feel forgiven?

Feelings are nice.  Ideally it would be great to feel forgiven. But feelings don’t have anything to do with what Jesus did on the cross. Your feelings can’t negate the work of God. Your feelings are always changing but Jesus’ work on the cross is an established fact of history.

Our feelings are based on what we truly believe. So if you don’t feel forgiven, that tells me that deep down, you don’t really believe that Jesus’ death paid for your sin. You either believe that your sin was too big to be forgiven or you can’t believe that Jesus’ death on the cross did all that the Bible says it did.  

I deal with these questions and others about finding God’s forgiveness in my book, Starting Over. I’m giving it away for free on Kindle today through April 2, 2020. Be sure to let your friends know.

Forgiveness is Not Reconciliation

For the month of December, I’ll be speaking on the idea of reconciliation at our church. After all, didn’t Jesus ultimately come to earth to reconcile us to God?

God’s move toward us, in Christ, gives us a great model to follow as we consider the broken relationships that we have. How can we move toward our offenders?

As I’ve reflected on the idea of reconciliation, it’s clear that it involves a few things, namely: forgiveness and trust. I’ve blogged extensively through the years on forgiveness, but let me outline a few distinctions between forgiveness, trust, and reconciliation here.

Forgiveness is Not Reconciliation

Forgiveness means giving up the right to get even.

Reconciliation means the reunion of two people.

Reconciliation requires two people fully engaged.

Forgiveness requires only one person fully engaged.

Forgiveness opens the door for the possibility for reconciliation to happen.

But reconciliation isn’t necessary for forgiveness to be worthwhile.

Reconciliation requires the rebuilding of trust.

And trust takes time.

Forgiveness doesn’t require trust.

Therefore, forgiveness can be granted immediately.

Forgiveness doesn’t require benevolence, kindness or even the absence of anger (although forgiveness will often begin the release of anger).

Forgiveness only requires a refusal to pay back the offender.

Forgiveness trusts God, and not the offender, to heal the wounds of the offender.

Forgiveness releases the offender from judgment. 

It frees the offender to redefine themselves with better behavior.

I gave a brief devotion about forgiveness and reconciliation during a communion service not too long ago. You can view it here.