Posted in focus on faith

One Good Reason…

Finding Tim Knapp was akin to finding a child I had given up at birth decades ago. I felt an uncanny level of connection when we met, via email, five years ago. Tim’s mother had seen me in an interview on 100 Huntley St. in which I talked about my lengthy season of spiritual dryness. She emailed me with a link to her son Tim’s blog.

When I finally clicked in, I found a soul mate. A fellow struggler. An overcomer. A gutsy, honest, back-from-the-grave Christ follower who didn’t have it all figured out. Yet. Or ever. Like me, he was tired of glibness, formulas and pat answers. But he wasn’t tired of Jesus.

I emailed Tim, introduced myself and said, keep writing! After you read Tim’s soon-to-be released book Dry Bones: a crisis of faith, you’ll understand why.

Tim got off to a great start in life. When he was a teen, he had to be up early to deliver newspapers. “Every morning as I crept down the hall before sunrise, I would find my father on his knees. With elbows on the couch and his face buried in his hands, he physically and spiritually pressed into a place of communion with the Lord. His consistent pursuit of the Father modeled for me a life of grateful surrender. I didn’t realize it at the time but each morning as I tiptoed past my kneeling father a little bit of Jesus rubbed off on me.”

But, as we all know, many runners start the race and only one takes home the prize. Typically we read the winner’s books and gobble up their secret(s) in three keys or seven habits or 12 steps or 50 ways and believe them when they assure us, “if I can win, you can too!”

The truth is a few of us “can” but lots of us “can’t”, not to mention those of us who won’t even try because we already tried and failed and are dragging along too much baggage, or barricaded behind walls of self protection, or paralyzed by fear.

So what about the rest of us? The ones who start the race and come in third or 25th or dead last? The ones who stumble and fall and are not able to get up and continue running? What we need is one good reason to keep running. We know the odds are against us so we need encouragement to stay the course, or to get back up, rejoin the race, and finish well.

Dry Bones holds that one good reason and that encouragement. A runner who was sidelined by some unfamiliar terrain, tripped up by fellow runners he thought were on the same team, and flattened by unexpected storms writes it. Thanks to a pursuing God, a loving family that never lost faith in him, and fellow runners who refused to leave him in the ditch, Tim found one good reason to get back on track.

“Before my journey into disillusionment my lifelong desire was to be used of God in ministry. That’s was my hunger, my heart’s cry. And I won’t lie…I wanted to be the guy up front. I wanted to be a ‘man of faith and power’ that everybody looks to with wonder and respect. I wanted to be a powerful leader who slayed giants and commanded armies. I wanted to be a David. God had other ideas.”

Tim reveals that his journey through wilderness had a refining, redemptive, and re-directing purpose. He discovered that while he tried, and failed, to become a David, God was calling him to be a Jonathan. That was his real purpose. That was his one good reason. His role as a Jonathan is to find disillusioned “Davids” and help restore them.

The world could use a lot more Jonathans! I have a few Jonathans in my life and without them, I could not have accomplished anything. They pray, they encourage, they come alongside when needed, they love, they support, they meet me when I am in hiding and lead me out, they are a friend in good times and bad, they have influence and put in a good word for me, and so much more.

Dry Bones is the best book I have ever read on spiritual wilderness, including mine. It has forehead slapping insights that made we wish I had thought of that, the main one being Tim’s unpacking of the true meaning of disillusionment. He starts by differentiating between disillusionment and discouragement. As a 10-year veteran of spiritual wilderness (while married to a minister) I greatly appreciated this differentiation. “Disillusionment is something deeper. Stronger. More sinister. [It] does not let up. It does not yield to reason and it does not respond to social media memes. Disillusionment cannot be outwaited or outwilled.” Amen!

Tim discovered three precursors to disillusionment, two of which I had never thought of: hunger, illusionment, and adversity. Hunger is “a deeply rooted desire for purpose and significance.” Yup! I certainly had that! Adversity is “the experience of a setback.” Oh yeah! Been there, done that, still have the stretch marks. But illusionment? Besides the fact that it’s not a word in the English lexicon, what is that exactly? Are you saying God was, is, an illusion?

Tim’s dissection of the word disillusioned holds profound insights. It means “to be dis-illusioned, to be delivered from an illusion.” Tim explains that in order for one to be delivered from an illusion, one first has to have an illusion. What is an illusion? In short, it is a lie. “God is not the illusion people fall for…. It is in the development of our understanding about God and ourselves that illusions begin to form.” In other words it is not God that is the lie but it is my understanding of Him and His ways that is flawed.

Tim illustrates this concept with the very illusion (he calls them mirages) I once held so dearly; the illusion that knocked me out of the race and mired me in sand for many years: “If I serve God faithfully I will not suffer.” That was a lie (illusion) I believed, so when adversity struck and I suffered, I became disillusioned. “Help! I’ve lost my faith!” I cried to my pastor husband from my wilderness position. Speaking a powerful truth I did not understand for years, he was agreeing in principle with Tim Knapp when he replied, “You haven’t lost your faith, you’re finding it.” In other words, I needed to shake of the illusions and lies I believed and find the real God and base my life on His truth.

Tim is honest, transparent, and real. His writing is beautiful, words laser-focused to convey exact intent. Tim’s willingness to share his failures, fears, and flaws make him, his God, and His truth so accessible to all of us, not just the “best” runners. His humility sprinkled with humour will keep you reading and hi-liting and tweeting and sharing. Maybe, like I did, you will discover your inner Jonathan, and the one good reason you needed to get you going again.

(the above excerpt is the Foreword I was honoured to write for Tim’s upcoming book Dry Bones.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith

Do you have a toxic relationship with God?

Believers seem to fall into two camps in terms of the character of the God they follow. He is either a jolly old soul full of good things for them if they behave or, on the far swing of the pendulum, he is stern, demanding, vengeful, judgmental, even harsh. The “Gods” are different but one thing is constant — you! You are trying to earn the love of a God who wants to give you that love for free.

What kind of God do you believe in? Lynne Hybels’ God was toxic.

Lynne grew up in church. Her desire to help people led her to college, initially seeking a degree in social work. However, once there, she grew disillusioned with the idea of helping people with their physical needs while ignoring their spiritual needs. She veered away from social work. But, she was also disillusioned with the church of her childhood for although it did much to address the spiritual needs of people, it did virtually nothing to address their physical needs.

At the age of 21, “as a last resort,” she began to read her Bible seriously for the first time. She was completely captivated by what she read in the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. She became enamoured with the vision of what the church could be. Not long after that she visited a friend who had an exciting ministry in Chicago. This young man had a vision for church and a zeal for the Lord that matched her own. They fell in love and she married Bill Hybels, Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. 

Together, they threw themselves into ministry, devoting their lives to the growth of the kingdom. Lynne tried very hard, and succeeded, at being a “good” pastor’s wife. She took care to look and act and be the model Christian she thought a pastor’s wife should be. Rebellion was the furthest thing from her mind because she sincerely wanted to honour God and her calling to ministry. Every day she would call out to God, “Tell me what you want me to do today. Anything! I’ll do anything.” Frustrated, she never seemed to hear a clear answer to that plea. She redoubled her efforts, working harder than ever in an attempt to earn God’s favour. Over time, she began to suffer the effects of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.

She slid into depression. After 15 years as a pastor’s wife, Lynne awoke to the reality that something terrible had happened, and she didn’t know how to fix it. She still loved the church, but she hated her life. Desperate, she walked into the office of a Christian counselor and asked for help. “When I go to bed at night, I pray that I won’t wake up,” she told the counselor.“ If not for my two wonderful children, whom I adore, I would not want to go on living. Can you help me?”

She was 39 years old and she “felt like a complete failure.”

With the help of counseling and the full support of her husband, over the next 10 years, Lynne embarked on a journey of self discovery, spiritual renewal, and healing. Eventually, she found freedom in Christ. Piece by piece she had to dismantle her unhealthy, imbalanced life and build a new life based on the truth of who God really is – not who she always thought He was.

Without blaming, Lynne admits that the view of God she had developed growing up was faulty. “I had a toxic relationship with God,” she says. She was a sensitive child who grew up hearing messages of hellfire and brimstone. That teaching formed in her impressionable mind an erroneous picture of who God was. She thought of Him as a hard-hearted taskmaster. She believed that she would have to work very hard and be very good in order to please Him. So that’s what she tried to do, because she truly wanted to please God. Eventually, her determination to earn God’s love in order to feel His love left her completely exhausted. After a decade and a half in ministry, what she needed most of all was rest, but, “my God wouldn’t let me rest,” she says.

In 1991, Lynn realized the only way she was going to get the rest she needed in order to survive, she says, was to “get rid of my God.” Staring up into the endless blue of a hot summer sky as she dd1-2stretched out in the prow of her husband’s sailboat, she told God she was done with Him: ”I can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep striving for your love.” At that time, God felt like a horrible weight and she knew she could “no longer carry the burden of a harsh and demanding deity.”

Her world didn’t stop turning and let her off. Lynne’s life was still full of responsibilities. But instead of continuing to work and strive and push herself, whenever possible, she collapsed into a recliner and stared out her family room window at the changing seasons. “Although I felt guilty, I had no energy for anything else,” she says.

Lynne Hybels came to a point in her faith journey where in desperation she decided that, to survive, she had to walk away from God as she understood Him. Thankfully, the God she walked away from wasn’t the God she later came to know and love. It was her toxic view of a harsh and demanding deity that was crushing her under the weight of its demands. As she rested in her recliner by the window, she “watched squirrels chase each other as the leaves turned to gold, and an amazing thing happened.” As she yielded to the beauty of God’s creation, she began to long for “a God” again. But not the God of her childhood.

“It’s me,” she whispered into the void as she opened her heart’s door just a crack.

“I love you,” the Whisperer replied. “I want you to rest, to listen, to watch. All those years you worked so hard, I was trying to get you to slow down.”

Lynne describes this experience as the pivotal moment of her life, where she was truly embraced by the love of God. I sobbed when I heard her say these words. Her poignant longing struck a chord within me. As Christians, we so deeply yearn to hear the Father speak words of love to us. We work and serve and knock ourselves out in order to earn His favour, all the while preaching the gospel of grace (unearned merit). But in our deepest place, in the hidden parts of our soul, we hunger for His tender voice. We thirst for His whispers of love. We long for His healing touch. I don’t think we will ever get enough of Him until we see Him face to face. This is why I cried, and why Lynne says she still weeps every time she tells or writes this part of her story. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Do you need to rethink your relationship with God? Join the conversation with a comment.

 

Posted in focus on faith

Carolyn Arends’ Wrestling with Angels

51oQbZwjXvL._SL500_AA300_Riveting. Comforting. Full of “Aha Me Too!” moments. Humorous. Clever. Incredibly well written. So Canadian you can almost smell maple syrup between the pages. I loved it!

Carolyn Arends’ book Wrestling with Angels: Adventures in Faith and Doubt displays a wisdom way beyond her years (written when she was 30-something) and a well-read background not often found in one so young.

Arends’ honest recounting of her paralyzing spiritual doubt that began at a high point in her successful musical career grabbed my attention because of my own long journey through spiritual wilderness that began at about the same age. However, she seemed to negotiate it with far more assurance than I did and one of the reasons may be that she recognized something that I failed to see for far too long: the Mystery of God.

Once I entered a little way into the Mystery of God, there was no going back. I could no longer list all the things I did not understand about God as threats to my faith–instead they became the primary evidence that God was, in fact, God…and that I was, in fact, not. I could endure the tension, sometimes experienced as doubt, and believe anyway. And here was the most radical part: I could believe not only in spite of but also in some ways because of my unanswered questions. I discovered a new way of breathing…and believing. 

What this young singer/songwriter taught me through her book was that instead of allowing doubt to destroy her faith, she understood that doubt defined her faith, even deepened her faith. What is faith after all? I know what it is not; it is not fact. In order for faith to be faith, there must be an element of the impossible, the unthinkable, the unprovable, the mysterious. That is why my husband/pastor Gerry always told me during my decade of debilitating doubt, “Connie, you haven’t lost your faith, you’re finding it.” And so I was.

The faith I “found” has fuzzier boundaries and duller colours than the faith I started my Christian life with. Don’t assume that I am loosey-goosey-anything-goes in my beliefs. Far from it. The Bible is more true to me than ever before but I no longer have to understand everything in it. When I encounter the unexplainable I don’t get stuck there, I declare “I guess this is Mystery” and move on.

If you want to read Carolyn Arends’ latest blogs start with this one. I appreciate her transparency and integrity as she deals with the question of whether or not going to church is the best thing for today’s believer.

Posted in focus on faith

The Nightmare of Aleppo: an eyewitness account

A Free Syrian Army fighter in AleppoThe account below, translated from Arabic, is from a Christian pastor who stayed to help his community in Aleppo. It is written from Beirut, where he has now fled.

Even though he has found refuge from the war he cannot find relief from the “nightmare” he experienced in his homeland.

He wrote: 2-Sept-13 ~ Beirut
Today I concluded my 3rd week outside of Aleppo…
And the nightmare of Aleppo — the stones, the friends, the relatives, the church, chase me in my travelling, in my sitting, in my dinner & my lunch… sometimes I feel my soul collapsing on me… in my waking, my alertness, my activity, in every meal it is close to me. It robs the energy of my mind, as I survey the variety of food in front of me– the variety that’s been missing from Aleppo!  And if this nightmare leaves me for a few minutes of quietness, i drown in the calculation of how many weeks, possibly months, have passed since the yogurt (or the chicken) has been extinct from the city, or how long has passed since we’ve seen this kind of food.
 
One day a friend invited me to eat a meal with him in a restaurant. i was perplexed– confusion & extreme unrest– to the strangeness of the place, to the variety of food, to the abundance of meat… and the feeling of dryness came over me, great dryness– I tried to bring these two together, but there is a gap between me & those I left in Aleppo.
 
As to the affect of sounds (real sounds) of battles, of artillery, of missiles, it appears as if that’s been carved inside me in such a way that will never be erased. So in Beirut, how strange it is, how often they play with fireworks– possibly every night. Until I realized these sounds were nothing but fireworks– a storm hit my heart with enough force to wet my brow with sweat!
 
And one day, I was crossing under a big bridge– the sound attacked my ears and quickly entered my heart like a storm– the sound resembled the rocket launcher as it starts spitting its fire– until I realized the situation was nothing more than cars going over the bridge, with their wheels hitting the different gaps in the cement! …I was in this daze for long enough for my friend to realize & to answer my urgent question– by telling me: There is no rocket launcher, don’t be afraid man! Don’t be afraid!
 
The height of my activity here – and maybe my only one – when I went with my family during these weeks to spend one day in the scouts camp — and the camp was by the seashore. The atmosphere was nice from all aspects: the children, the beautiful activities they were undertaking, the tent erected on the seashore, the sand, the joy of the people, add to that restful balanced weather. But inside me, it was stormy, noisy & tiring! …with me, the nightmare of Aleppo was traveling to this place!
 
And how much I walked on the sand, pacing back & forth, thinking inside me of Aleppo– 
the stones, the people, the relatives, the brothers, the sisters, the church; and added to this inside me, on that day came the new interruption of the telephone lines and internet!   What will they do?  Is there food?  Is there electricity?
Is it natural for me to enjoy here while they are in the big prison, Aleppo? The joy of the people around me — is it true? Or is it fake?  In the pit of my thoughts & feelings, in trying to measure the magnitude of the suffering of my brothers there… do I laugh their laughter? Do I play their games? Do I enjoy their entertainment?  
The reality: it was expected of me to stay till midnight — till the scouts finished their camp around the campfire; but I could not… I had to leave right after lunch!
 
In these past 3 weeks, I did not need photos or a list of names or a news item to remind me of Aleppo and who’s there. Aleppo sits beside me in my every move, my every day, 
even in writing these lines.
 
The roads to Aleppo continue to be closed to travellers, and that means more days, possibly weeks… I will live in the company of this nightmare! And how do I endure its pressure on me!
 
Spiritual wilderness is often a result of suffering, grief and loss. This pastor’s nightmare wrenches my heart. It’s easy for us to disregard the suffering of people in faraway places — out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy to blame them for their own suffering — why can’t they solve their tribal differences peacefully? But the reality is they are our brothers and sisters and the conflicts date back hundreds of years and are complex. As Christians, our role is not to judge, it is to love and to do whatever we can to bring the hope of Christ to the hurting.
Please pray. If you can give to their relief, the organization Gerry and I give to is Canadian Global Response (a partner with the Canadian National Baptist Convention). The founder of CGR was born and raised in Syria and this cause is close to his heart. All money given goes directly to help Syrian people.
Posted in focus on faith

It’s all Greek to me

IMG_3324Have you ever said, “It’s all Greek to me”? What does that mean? How many Greek words do you know? Moussaka and spanakopita don’t count. None? Me too. And things aren’t likely to change on that front since I am losing brain cells faster than fat cells.

For most of my Christian life, I blindly supported the false narrative of a Christian Caste System. The people I placed at the top of the heap (the Brahmins or priestly caste) were the Bible teachers and scholars. They were closest to God. They had earned the right to have a voice. They had a message worth listening to. They were the experts.

I have never felt like an expert when it comes to spirituality. In regards to my personal journey, 10 years of spiritual wilderness took the shine right off my halo!

However, my “problem” was my call to ministry and the constant invitations to speak and write. But God! I’m not a scholar! I can’t pronounce or translate one single Greek WORD! All I have are my hands, my humor and a heart that wants to serve You. How can You use me?

His answer? Connie, most people are just like you. They don’t know Greek either! And they never will. But they have gifts – gifts I have given them. And they need encouragement to use those gifts for My sake.

  • Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the   same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. (I Corinthians 12: 4-6)

In God’s eyes, there is no difference between the man who preaches to thousands and the one who leads a small group during lunch hour at his office. There is no difference between the woman with the television ministry and the woman who brings a meal to her neighbor after she has had a baby. There is no difference between the Bible Study author who sells millions and the young mom who blogs to bring hope to her friends. All are using the gifts God gave them to be the hands and feet and voice of His Son Jesus.

What gifts has God given you? Two good hands? A sense of humor? A heart that notices the needy? Eyes that see beauty in unlikely places? Ears that hear the cries of lonely people? A nose that does not turn up in disgust for the homeless, the hapless, the helpless, the horribly disfigured? You have a voice. Don’t let false narratives silence it. Join me in saying there’s hope for the rest of us. Let’s take the message of authentic spirituality by encouraging everyday people, just like us, to keep it real.

 What do I mean, keep it real?

  • Recognize and dismantle your idols: anybody need a slightly worn “What Would Beth Moore Do?” bracelet?
  • Realize that all God-given gifts are spiritual and worthy: stop apologizing for being “just” funny or handy or creative or strong or energetic and accept that God made you that way and whatever He created, he declared to be “very good”.
  • Refuse to pretend you are something you are not: if I have a spare moment, I do not run to my desk; I run to my garden or my kitchen or the home of family or friends who need help. “Doing” feeds my soul. God made me that way. It’s okay!
  • Reject guilt that you are not a carbon copy of the saints you idolize: I love to read and listen to scholarly teachers and preachers. I admire their passion for study and their ability to gain insight from that study and their skill in conveying that insight in engaging ways. But I’m not them. And that’s okay!
    • But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12: 18-20)
  • Rejoice in who you are and let others see Jesus in your joy:The best Christian witness you or I will ever have is to be happy in Jesus. In 2004, in Surrey BC, I heard Beth Moore say, “I am happy!” Even though I have done many of her wonderful Bible studies, that is the one statement that stands out from everything else. That alone, was enough for me. I am going to go out on a limb here…I daresay the biggest reason Beth Moore is happy is because she is doing what God created her to do. She is being who God created her to be. Humans clone; God makes originals. Be the “original” God made you to be and let others see His joy in you.