I remember the first time I was hurt by someone I trusted and respected. They had been a source of life and love for me in my spiritual walk and they had presented themselves as someone to count on. I’d reached out to confide in them and ask for advice as I had been feeling dull and lost. The needle of my compass wasn’t staying fixed on a direction and I was slowly sailing through the fog. To add to the burden of confusion, I had been beating myself up because I couldn’t figure a way out of the fog. It was certainly a hard place to be.
The response he gave was sharp and lacking poise. I walked away carrying a second helping of condemnation in my spirit. “How could you let yourself get here, Casey? Why are you feeling this way? What did you do? Who are you? Why are you here? Just give up and disappear.” Those thoughts surged like waves against the rock face of my heart and the internal confusion compounded.
It would be neat to say that in that moment Jesus showed up in a magnificent and profound way, but He didn’t. It would make for an awe-inspiring story to say that an angel appeared before me with an invigorating encouragement, but that didn’t happen either. I stood there staring into the abyss of nothingness. I was confused, lost, and disappointed in myself for allowing myself to even get into that place. Jesus eventually did show up though. Or, I should say, He eventually appeared to show up.
Years later Holy Spirit reminded me of that event. I winced. I attempted to withdraw from the memory but He was persistent. It was painful at first but when he removed the blood stained gauze that had become glued to the wound I saw something I didn’t notice before. What I saw surprised me.
Jesus was there all along.
When Holy Spirit brought me back to that event, I saw Jesus sitting there in that moment, turned towards me, with His loving and tender gaze fixed solely on me. His eyes, oh my goodness His eyes. I could climb Everest in one go with a single glimpse of those eyes. I could endure a life of nothing but pain, hardship, and suffering if I had but one look from His eyes. I could joyfully embrace a martyr’s reward with just one eye-locked moment with Him.
There was nothing but pure love, concern, and empathy in His eyes.
I noticed something else in that experience. I noticed I hadn’t once looked toward Him. I was sitting on the couch mentally pacing around my hurt and confusion wondering what on earth was going on, and I never once looked at Him sitting there next to me. As you can imagine, that experience resulted in tears streaming down my face. Good tears. Healing tears. He was so patient with me in that moment, and in all the moments since. He didn’t rush me through it. He sat there with me. He didn’t tell me to brush it off and put your big-boy pants on. He experienced the pain with me. He didn’t tell me to hurry it up. He endured it with me. Jesus has never responded to me in the way the other man did. His love is so steady. His love is unending.
Dear reader, Jesus suffers with you. He endures with you. He walks through the pain with you. He’s there, ever-present and ever-ready, to offer His healing and empowering embrace with His gaze fixed on you.
How do you move past pain?
How do you press on from hurt?
How do you navigate out of the fog?
You look into His eyes.
Written by: Casey Bolton Crocker
It’s impossible to scroll through Facebook today without seeing some passionately written, sometimes angry posts. These posts can take on a variety of different flavors. It could be the classic political rant, a religious rant, or any other number of rants that are always anti-something or someone. With the current political climate and division that we’re seeing throughout the US, it got me thinking about a teaching I heard years ago that is more relevant now than ever before.
In his book “The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind,” Bill Johnson has a chapter where he talks about the leavens of the mind. Leaven is defined as a substance, typically yeast, that is added to make dough rise. It can also refer to a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it. In the natural realm, when activated by heat, leaven causes dough to rise. In the spiritual realm, when activated by “the fire of difficulty” or trials, whatever leaven is influencing your mind will rise to the surface and be exposed. It is in this context that Jesus used the word leaven when speaking to his disciples.
Right after Jesus miraculously fed the four thousand, the Pharisees came to him and questioned him, testing him and demanding a sign from heaven (as if feeding 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread wasn’t a sign from heaven!). Jesus sighed and refused to give them the sign they so desperately wanted, knowing that they would still reject him no matter what. After his interaction with the Pharisees, Jesus addressed his disciples: “Be careful. Watch out for the yeast (or leaven) of the Pharisees and that of Herod” (Mark 8:15).
We see from the life and teachings of Jesus that there are three types of leaven:
- The leaven of Herod
- The leaven of the Pharisees
- The leaven of the Kingdom
These leavens, or mindsets, are alive and active today and they greatly affect how we think and live. They are a picture of influence on our minds and will influence our thoughts, decisions, and frame of reference.
The Leaven of Herod
The leaven of Herod is an atheistic influence based on the strength of man and man-based systems, like politics, popular will, and persuasion. Herod’s leaven excludes God entirely. This belief represents a big problem in the Church: practical atheism, or a disbelief in an active God. As believers, how often do we face situations on a daily basis where we don’t bring God into the picture? We are professing Christians, but are we living any differently that our atheist neighbors when we face a problem? Is our first response to seek God’s counsel and invite Him to intervene?
America is permeated by the leaven of Herod. We applaud those who are “self-made” and relied on their own strengths and abilities to rise to success. Sometimes the Church falls into this deception as well. We falsely think that whatever we can accomplish on our own strength has been directed or honored by God. We may accomplish our goals and reach what the world calls “success,” but that doesn’t always mean that God is involved in our efforts.
The Leaven of the Pharisees
The leaven of the Pharisees represents the religious system. This mindset embraces God in theory, but not in practice or experience. For those under this influence, the concept of God is essential, but the experience of God is completely removed. Bill Johnson said it beautifully when he wrote, “Pharisees provide explanations, but not solutions.”
Under this influence, we can “know” Jesus the wrong way, just as the people of Nazareth did – they knew him in form, but not in relationship or demonstration. We see in the American church today many people who are totally satisfied with the Pharisee leaven. They are content with being a churchgoer, but yet entirely unplugged from an active, invasive, ever-present God. Many Christians with this mindset find “explanations” for problems such as physical illness, broken relationships, or financial lack. They are confident in their ability to explain away any problem, but they are powerless to provide any solution.
I love how Jesus refused to give the Pharisees the sign they demanded from him. He was so focused on solutions that He didn’t even entertain their debate. The Church would do well to follow this example today.
The Leaven of the Kingdom
When we’re influenced by the leaven of the Kingdom, we’re able to live out the Lord’s cry that “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” and know that anything is possible at any time. This leaven is activated in our minds when we surrender to the Lord and the ways of his kingdom. Every time we read about a miracle that Jesus performed, or experience a miracle in our own lives today, its purpose is to teach us a new revelation of God that we can build our thought lives upon. God wants every testimony in our life and the lives of others to have its full effect on the way we think – renewing our minds to be kingdom-focused.
It’s easy to be kingdom-minded when things are going well in our lives, but the real test comes when we face trials – your car breaks down, a relationship ends, you lose a job, face a physical sickness, etc. It is in these moments that we must refuse to bow to the reality of our circumstances and instead proclaim the greater reality of King Jesus and his kingdom reign. When we keep our minds fixed upon him, we know that there is always a solution to any problem we will ever face. We know that he will heal our hearts and restore broken relationships. We know that he will provide above and beyond what we need and desires for us to be prosperous. We know that it’s his will to heal every sickness and disease, just as he healed all those who came to him.
Does your thought life begin with what you lack, or does it start with the revelation of Jesus and his kingdom provision? Are you worrying over something that Jesus has provided for you time and time again in the past? Don’t get stuck in tradition or be deceived by the leaven of Herod and the leaven of the Pharisees. Remember, kingdom thinking knows that anything is possible at any time. Every testimony we have in our lives should become the new standard from which we think in the future.
I encourage you to reflect upon your thought life and take an inventory of what leavens you’re being influenced by. When the impossible begins to seem possible, then you’ll know your mind is being renewed.
Written by: Nate Ebel
The more I study the Law of Moses, the more I see how eerily similar this system is to jolly old Saint Nick with his bag full of toys and coal.
Both systems have one striking similarity.
In order to qualify for the goodies, you have to be obedient to a moral standard.
I grew up with a very dark and twisted view of God. I knew Jesus died for my sins and loved me, but I felt like God was constantly disappointed with me since I never seemed to avoid sin for more than a week. To me, God was like Santa Claus. If I prayed enough, fasted enough, and lived holy enough, I could expect God to be jolly and give me goodies in my spiritual stocking. If I was bad, and neglected those things, I expected God to give me spiritual coal.
Eventually, I grew quite disgusted with my perception of God who appeared to be a moral monster that was only satisfied with me when I was operating in perfect behavior and absolute obedience.
Is this really who God is?
I found out later that our view of God will be greatly or even completely determined by which covenant we choose to identify with most. Either the New Covenant, or the Old Covenant.
The Old Covenant, or “The Law Of Moses” was known as a “Kinship Covenant.”
Kinship Covenant -A covenant when two equal parties came together, as in a marriage. Each party took on a small list of obligations in the covenant. This type of covenant had a small set of obligations and was very evenly divided between the two parties. A kinship covenant was also referred to as a parity covenant. 1
In the Law Of Moses, the terms where the 10 commandments.
If the Israelites perfectly obeyed the 10 commandments, they would receive blessings such as blessed produce, storehouses, livestock, land, offspring of their flocks, defeated enemies etc. (See Deuteronomy 28:1-14)
If they disobeyed the 10 commandments, look out! Their produce, storehouses, livestock, land, offspring, and flocks would be cursed, and their enemies would defeat them.
In addition, God would send confusion and rebuke until they were destroyed. God would make a plague cling to them and until they were consumed. God would strike them with fever, inflammation, sever burning fever, and with sword and scorching.
It sounds like those horrible side effects we hear on prescription drug commercials.
Wait, it gets worse.
God would change the rain of their land to powder and dust until they were destroyed. Their carcasses would be food for the birds of the air that nobody could frighten away. God would strike them with boils of Egypt, tumors, scabs, itchiness which cannot be healed, and with blindness and confusion of heart.
The list of curses is much larger than the blessings, and I only quoted a small portion of them. See Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
I would take a whole bag, no, 100 bags full of coal from Kris Kringle any day of the week over those awful curses!
But what about the New Covenant?
Has anything changed? Is God still blessing us for obedience and cursing us for disobedience?
The short answer is, no.
The New Covenant is known as a “Grant Covenant.”
Grant Covenant – A covenant when a greater and lesser person came into covenant, and the greater one took on all of the obligations. The lesser one only needed to receive the covenant. 1
The Old Covenant was all about what we did for God, the New Covenant is all about what God did for us.
The Old Covenant did not reflect God’s heart. God did not want to bless man based upon his good or bad works, which is why He called for a new and better covenant where the blessing is not based upon our obedience, so we can’t mess it up, and God can continually bless us through simply believing in His Son Jesus Christ.
When Jesus announced the New Covenant at the last supper, He did not include an “unless you mess up” clause.
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20
Hebrews 8:6 describes the New Covenant as a “Better” covenant established on “Better promises.”
Here are a few of those better promises of the New Covenant, and the way the Scriptures say we receive them. If you get time, go read the scriptures I quote, and you tell me if the emphasis is on faith, or works, to obtain these promises.
Promise: The Holy Spirit
Receive by: Faith
Received by: Faith
Promise: Eternal Life
Received by: Faith
Promise: Forgiveness of Sins
Received by: Faith
Received by: Faith
Received by: Faith
I can already hear those who object to the New Covenant saying “But what about good works, holiness, and obedience? Are you saying it’s ok to sin all you want, not do good works, and be disobedient to God because we are under a New Covenant?”
The good news is I don’t have to answer that question, because the Apostle Paul and James already settled this common misconception.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer in it?” Romans 6:1-2
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17
The New Covenant reality is that we deserved coal in our stockings, but Jesus chose to fill them with incredible gifts and New Covenant blessings instead, despite our bad behavior, just because He loves us.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Now we should simply say thank you, receive the New Covenant promises by faith, and enjoy them!
Remember, in a Grant Covenant, which is what the New Covenant is, we are to simply receive the covenant blessings with no obligation to keep the blessings through obeying a set of terms, that’s Old Covenant thinking.
Of course we avoid sin, we do good works, we love people, but those things don’t qualify us for righteousness, sonship, forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit, believing in Jesus Christ does. They are gifts to be received by childlike faith, not toys to be earned through being a good little boy or girl all year.
I spent many years filtering God through the lens of the Old Covenant, and it greatly distorted my view of God and hindered my relationship with Him. Once I understood that God relates to man by covenant, and God now relates to man through the New and Better Covenant, my relationship with God was restored.
What would our lives, our families, and the church as a whole look like, if we could all relate to God through the lens of the New and Better Covenant, and abandon our Old Covenant filter that misrepresents the true character of God that was finally expressed through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant based on simple faith?
Written by: Jordan Hardgrave
1 “Understanding The Whole Bible”. Page 164;165. -Jonathan Welton
For more information on Kinship Covenants please read “Kinship By Covenant” by Scott W. Hahn (Link Below)
I remember a story a Korean pastor used to tell of a woman in his congregation who would come in week after week with various complaints. When he would ask her how she was doing she would reply, “I’m ok, under the circumstances.” I love his response. He would always ask, “What are you doing under there?”
We all have circumstances, situations that weigh on us. Some that even may seem pretty dire. But God does not call us to be “under the circumstances.” God calls us, as Christians, to rise above our circumstances. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
Ezekiel, the prophet, is taken to a valley full of bones. The bones were dry. Obviously, there was no life in those bones, but God told the prophet to speak to the bones, to speak life back into them. And he did. He spoke and the bones reconnected to each other. Tendons, muscles and flesh returned to the bones. He spoke again and breath returned to the bodies and they stood on their feet. (Ezekiel 37)
God never told the prophet to call the bones what they were, he told him to call them what they should be. The circumstance was a valley full of dead, dry bones. That’s a pretty hopeless situation. But God’s reality was that they became a vast army.
Another prophet, Elisha, and his servant were in a circumstance where they were surrounded by a hostile enemy. The servant saw the circumstances and he was afraid. But Elisha knew God’s reality was more than what the servant saw. He told him that those that were with them were more than those that were against them. He prayed that God would open the servant’s eyes, and the servant saw that there was a vast angel army surrounding their enemies (2 Kings 6).
And the most important circumstance to a Christian is the death of Jesus on the cross. When Jesus died his disciples didn’t know what to do with themselves and returned to fishing, feeling hopeless about the man they had given up everything for. The situation looked pretty dire to them, but then Jesus resurrected. There was so much that God was accomplishing through the death of Jesus, but the disciples didn’t see it until they were on the resurrection side of it.
“Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). When we speak of things how they are we are “under the circumstances.” But when we speak what is not yet seen, we are speaking faith in God’s reality.
Most Christians I know, would heartily agree that we should be about the business of faith rather than speaking negatively about our situations. The sickness, the financial situation, the rocky marriage – these can truly be devastating circumstances. But we know that God is working everything for good, for those that love Him and are walking according to his purpose, (Romans 8:28), don’t we?
There is one area, however, where it seems to me that many in the American church are “under the circumstances.” That area is the state of our country, which in some people’s estimation is very far away morally and spiritually from where it should be. Rather than being about the business of the Kingdom of God, bringing light to dark places, Christians stand back and criticize the darkness for being dark.
Under the circumstances some things may appear desperate, but remember God is not calling us to see things how they are. We are to speak life into what seems lifeless. We are to speak hope to those who are hopeless. The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
Maybe it is perspective. For those that view moral decline in our world as a sign of a soon arriving rapture and coming judgement, they may feel no compulsion to do anything but observe, shake their heads and tsk tsk at the circumstances.
But if our business is to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6), meaning to make the message of the Kingdom our number one priority, then no matter what the circumstances appear to be, we should always be advancing, always carrying the light to dark places, always speaking hope into what seems hopeless, life into what seems lifeless. I think as Christians in America that should definitely apply to our country. So, don’t stand back and blame darkness for being dark. Stand up and be the light. Speak life.
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4).
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
I love Toby Mac’s song “Move (Keep Walkin’). In it he says, “Lift up your head, it ain’t over yet.” Let’s keep that in mind when we feel weighed down by the circumstances.
Written by: Sharon Letson
A little over three years ago I got to marry the love of my life. I’ll never forget the butterflies I felt in my stomach as I waited to walk onto the stage. And shortly after, the sheer awe that I experienced as my beautiful bride walked down the aisle. Weddings are a time for celebration. They are a time of great joy and thanksgiving. And while my wedding day is without a doubt etched into my mind as the best memory of my life, the season surrounding that time of my life was one of complete misery.
To be clear, it had absolutely nothing to do with my wife or the wedding itself, or even the wedding planning process. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dealing with what I now know to be a chronic immune system disease called eosinophilic esophagitis (EE). In short, this condition is due to an excess build up of white blood cells in the esophagus that causes constriction and difficulty swallowing. I have been a slow eater my entire life, and I’ve often had trouble swallowing my food. On four or five different occasions throughout my life, I’ve actually choked and had to receive the heimlich maneuver from friends or family members.
The EE was at the worst it’s ever been in the six months or so leading up to my wedding. I could hardly get any food down, and was basically on a diet of mashed potatoes, soup, and protein shakes. I lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and at six foot two, I weighed in at around 165 pounds the day of my wedding. This was an extremely embarrassing, exhausting, and miserable time of my life. Keep in mind, while all this was happening, I did not know that I had EE. Up to that point, doctors, psychologists, and therapists all thought I was just dealing with symptoms of anxiety. My anxiety was so bad that it was just causing my throat muscles to tighten up and make it feel as if I couldn’t swallow easily, is what they would tell me. I certainly did have a degree of anxiety that I had been dealing with since my teenage years, but this definitely seemed to be more than that.
Thankfully, after rigorous psychological testing to determine what was causing this degree of “anxiety,” a grad student who was reading my list of symptoms said that she learned about a condition in class that sounded similar to what I was describing. She referred me to a GI doctor and he scheduled a time for me to have an upper endoscopy. Sure enough, I had EE. In fact, my esophagus was so constricted that they could not even get the tiny scope to go down. They had to stretch it with a balloon-type instrument first.
After they stretched my esophagus and put me on a few different medications, I was able to eat much easier and within the next three months I gained about 40 pounds. That was about two and a half years ago. One would think that things are much better now, but that’s not necessarily the case. While my eating is certainly much more normal now, I still have to eat extremely slow, be careful what I eat, and I often experience indigestion and chest pain. More than that though, I’ve been dealing with some lingering anxiety symptoms for the last few years. You see, when you’ve had something lodged in your throat multiple times and needed someone to give you the heimlich, in that moment, you’re in a state of extreme panic and don’t know if you’ll ever take another breath. Plus, after being told that an actual physical condition was just “in my head” for several years, that led to much more anxiety, which produced many panic attacks. Most of those panic attacks felt like the oxygen was cut off and once again, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever take another breath.
Years of these experiences has led to my current predicament: a fear of choking again, a fear of losing my breath, a fear of not being able to breathe. As a result, I’ve become hyper aware of my breathing and often will try and “take over” my breathing on a conscious level. Many times this will lead me to hyperventilate until my face gets tingly and numb. This has happened dozens of times over the years, and often the only cure has been to take a prescribed anti-anxiety pill in the midst of it. Over time, I’ve learned to “deal with” these symptoms and I’ve become comfortably miserable. After things seeming to get worse again as of late, and having sought the Lord in prayer about it, I’ve decided to start seeing a therapist to focus solely on this one breathing fear / issue.
Very few people know any of this about me, as I don’t like to talk about it and bring attention to myself. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I don’t want to be misunderstood or labeled as “weak,” and I feel embarrassed because I know in my head that it’s all just an irrational fear. It’s not easy for me to share this with the world. So, this begs the question, why am I sharing all of this? Well, ultimately, my heart is that it will bring some much needed hope to someone else. But also, I want to explain how all this relates to God and the new covenant.
This blog talks a lot about the new covenant. The forgiveness we have in it. The freedom we have in it. The healing we have in it. I have always been passionate about the supernatural healing power of God. I love the fact that Jesus healed everyone who came to him that was sick and oppressed (Luke 4:40, Matthew 15:30, Acts 10:38). I’ve witnessed many people get supernaturally healed right before my eyes. Deaf ears opened, legs grown out, migraines dissolved in a moment, and more. I’ve even had the privilege of seeing others get healed through me laying hands on them and praying. However, in spite of all of this, I’ve yet to experience this same healing power of God in my own life. It’s left me questioning God many times. Why haven’t I been healed? I’ve been on numerous medications, seen many doctors and therapists, sat through deliverance and inner healing sessions, gone to healing rooms, and prayed persistently. All this, and yet still, nothing.
While it may be easy at times for me to doubt God’s healing power and His intentions, I’ve never been more convinced of His goodness than I am right now in my life. As I’ve come to a greater understanding of how to read the Bible through the lens of God’s covenant journey with mankind, my heart has drawn closer to the Father like never before. Despite my circumstances, I no longer have to question His true character or motives. I know that as a partaker in the new and better covenant, healing is God’s will. If Jesus is the perfect representation of God the Father (Hebrews 1:3), then I have to accept that my sickness is not His doing. If it were, then Jesus would have been in direct opposition to the Father throughout His ministry on earth. His ministry was one of healing. And it’s a ministry that he passed along to his disciples and us today as the church. Furthermore, we can see from Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 that the Lord’s will is “on earth as it is in heaven.” Obviously, there is no sickness in heaven. If God’s will being done means that earth would look like heaven, then I can rest in the sureness that sickness is not His will for me.
So, now to address the big elephant in the room: If it’s God’s will for me to be healed, then why hasn’t that happened? In all honesty, I have no answer. I don’t understand it, and I may not receive an explanation this side of heaven. However, I refuse to change my theology on healing just because I haven’t experienced it in my own life. Instead, I will line my theology up with what the word of God says and stand firm on that. I will continue to pursue my own healing for the rest of my life, and I’m hopeful that I will receive it. I’m hopeful because I trust in the goodness of my Father. He really is good all the time. It’s not just a cliche that I say from time to time, but it’s a reality that’s molding my relationship with Him.
One of my heroes, Bill Johnson, put it beautifully when he said, “You cannot hold God hostage to your questions. He doesn’t owe you an answer. If you want the peace that passes all understanding, you’re going to have to give up your right to understand. It’s called trust.”
I truly believe that my healing will one day fully manifest and I will have another great testimony to share with others. In the meantime, I will continue to boldly declare that Jesus is the healer and His will is that all would be healed. I will lay hands on the sick and expect that they will recover, and even if they don’t, I will still move forward declaring God’s goodness. And I will never, ever attribute sickness as something that is from God. We may not always understand why someone hasn’t been healed, but we can understand that sickness is a work of the enemy, and not of the Father.
So, if you’re reading this today and you can relate it to something similar going on in your own life, then I would encourage you to walk in the freedom that we have as new covenant believers. The freedom to not only receive healing, but also to admit that you’ve not yet been healed, and that it’s okay to not be okay. I believe the first step we need to take in order to receive healing is to admit that we’re not okay. Once we’ve done that, then God will meet us where we’re at and love us and comfort us through it all. He really is a good Father, and there’s no exaggerating His goodness. Whatever your situation, whatever your sickness, whatever your frustration, take it to Him today. He’s waiting with a smile and open arms to welcome you into His lap.
With unwavering hope,
I first met Jesus when I was 14 years old. My best friend and I went to a youth group at a local church and we were told about salvation through grace by Jesus dying for us on the cross.
I knew something happened that night. My heart was full, my spirit experienced something it never had before – a joy and peace so deep down that I have since then been spoilt in the fact that nothing in this world, can ever bring that same feeling, except communion with God.
Within a few years, I was baptized in water and Spirit and speaking in my new divine language. I was attending church up to three times a week getting lots of teaching and what I thought was knowledge.
However, over the years, things got more complex. I had a boyfriend and later a husband, my own life and career and struggles as I started to witness life’s disappointments. I felt I was constantly trying to “meet God’s requirements” of being a good person and coming up short. Why was I so angry, why was life hard, why wasn’t I coping, why was my marriage struggling. I looked around at the Christian figures I had in my life at that stage, I really didn’t see anyone who stood out, all seemed to be as miserable as anyone else, where was the victory and joy and freedom that I had heard about in Christ. Mostly why was there no visible difference between who proclaimed to be a Christian and who was not? I became plagued with guilt (of performance, or lack thereof) and fear of everything.
Also, as an artist, I always felt naturally drawn to the supernatural, the physic, the weird, and alternative. Yet I was constantly rapped over the knuckles for wanting to explore this. I really felt I wasn’t coping and couldn’t freely express and explore my authenticity. I slowly lost my pure joy of the Lord and could no longer feel comfortable in His presence as my “sins’ weighed deep on my heart.
This is when when I pretty much stopped going to church started going into the closet. It was easier on my fear and guilt if I didn’t hear every week that I wasn’t living up to what God expected of me. That the things I were naturally drawn to weren’t lining up with God’s word and I was letting the devil in! I didn’t have to tell people I was going to church on Sunday and have their faces get that look that says “oh, she must be one of those.” I wasn’t going to be judged in the closet!
So for the next 18 plus years I lived there. I never lost my faith, I never lost contact with God, all I did was pray in the Spirit and ask God not to ever leave me, nor let me go to far away from Him. I didn’t attend church, proclaim I was a Christian, or openly share my faith. How could I? How could I convince anyone of God’s goodness, when I didn’t know anything of it. Could I tell people “live like me, but expect guilt and fear as part of the deal?” I would hear people criticize Christians in front of me and not say a word, I quite honestly felt the same and had to in many cases agree with them about the hypocrisy I saw.
Guilt and shame was there – so deep, but no one knew, so no one could call it out.
But God was faithful and never did leave me. Looking back, I see so many times when he carried me and got me through rocky times in relationships and financially and in motherhood and my ego (to name a few).
About 6 years ago I stuck my head out of the closet. God had gracefully inspired some of my artwork that spoke of unconditional love and through that I had to start exploring Him from my heart and on my own. Also, reading a novel set in historical 70AD Jerusalem, that I couldn’t place in biblical terms, I started on a sincere journey for truth. I am now happy to report that I am no longer in the closet. Although I don’t attend church too often for the same reason, I am a guilt free person, learning to walk in victory and be joyful in every situation. I now understand, in my heart, God’s goodness. I have no fear of man and am free to explore anything I want as I am convinced that nothing can separate me from the love of God.
So now I look back and question why this happened. I believe we are taught in most churches, and correctly so, that we are saved by grace, we can’t earn it. But the grace seems to stop there. Now that we are saved, we must live up to some sort of impossible standard and earn the rest. Instead of teaching and the focus being on exploring the “new creatures” we are, we get rules. If we don’t tithe we can’t be blessed financially, when we sin, which we definitely will, because we are inherently bad, evil people and our flesh will get the better of us, we must get before this terrifying wrathful God who will forgive us if we really, really repent in our heart. We must fast if we are not getting prayers answered and thereby twist Gods arm (?) to maybe do something that’s really important to us like heal our friend of cancer. Not to mention constant reminders that I am a sinner and my righteousness is as filthy rags. I am exaggerating of course, to make a point and this isn’t a bold outright teaching, in fact I am even sure that half the pastors don’t even realize their deep rooted mind set on this as they too were indoctrinated at seminary. However, the teaching is there (and still is) albeit very insidious and subtle. It is a religious spirit and very much legalistic. So how could I possibly have a relationship with a God portrayed like this, one I was afraid of, and felt I displeased so often. Who would want to be a Christian except for the reason that we are scared to death of a literal hell and going there!?
I thank God daily that in my seeking and intimate conversations with the Trinity, and sound biblical contextual teaching (I am getting at an amazing bible school), that I have now been taught truth. I am knowledgeable and my heart knows what the Word says. I understand we are in a Better Covenant, a new covenant that Jesus brought, completely doing away with the old covenant which was the give and take agreement (blessing and cursing). We are now under a covenant that brings freedom, freedom from guilt and fear and condemnation, a covenant that embraces our beautiful lives, bodies and uniqueness and individuality here on earth and focuses on the redemption rather than the old sin. All this held together through a true understanding of what Jesus actually accomplished at the cross. If we are not taught the full impact of what occurred at the cross, we cannot live victorious and free lives. My walk as a Christian stems from my relationship with a very real extremely loving, kind God that isn’t accessible according to my deeds, but rather that lives in every fiber of my being and communes with me constantly, I need only to stop and listen. A God who has dealt with sin once and for all, who has created me anew where sin isn’t second nature, in fact it has no part of me. How can it be if I was crucified and resurrected anew with Christ and I am the temple of the Holy Spirit? Selah!
I am light, I carry light and the darkness cannot cover the light. I trust God, who when I understand His relentless pursuit of loving me, can only lead me to repentance and to say ‘I surrender all.’ And in losing me – I find myself.
If I had been taught this all those years of attending church, I very much doubt I would have even seen the inside of the closet. However, I have no regrets, and I don’t need this ‘confession’ to be a religious one, my God is one of restoration and mercy and kindness. He doesn’t have a whipping stick; in contrast, He has his arms wide open welcoming the prodigal daughter home.
I know now, for sure, that I will praise His name forever.
Written by: Avril Ward