The water was warm and comforting, but my mind and heart were cold, chaotic, and in a state of despair. As I soaked in the tub, my soul was crying out to God for some kind of relief, some kind of hope. My music was interrupted by the phone ringing.
I looked at the name, silenced the phone, and broke down in tears. It was one of my best friends, but I couldn’t bear to answer. “I’m a failure. I’m no good. I couldn’t convince one person. Only two people from my church even reached out to me to study. I can’t be a minister. I suck. This sucks. I’m through. Lord help me.” The phone started ringing again. It was another minister friend. Silenced. “I can’t face them. They see through me. They know I’m a fake, a fraud, no good. God, why?”
I can’t explain it, but in those months of darkness, it was physically impossible to answer the phone if it was anything related to church or ministry. My best friend in all the world sent me texts, tried to call me, and I didn’t answer. I haven’t heard from him since. I just can’t even put into words how awful it feels when I reflect on those days. The darkness, the despair, the pain is unimaginable. Thinking about it causes me to slip back into the darkness momentarily, but I believe it’s worth it because if just one person is in that stage, I want them to hear my story of transition and reformation. I want them, I want you, to know that it gets better!
I had this happen to me at least two major times: the Fall of 2017 and the Fall of 2018. Both times I cut off all contact with my church friends, stopped reading, stopped writing, and went into a major slump. But there have been many of these minor times throughout the years, times when I’ve lost all hope. Thankfully I’ve discovered the tools needed to help pull me out of it before it gets too bad. Some of these I’ll discuss later in a different post.
Okay, I’m going to be honest with you. The first four posts I sat down and wrote in about an hour; I never stopped typing.
This one has been different.
After taking a little break, I’m ready to start again. I want to tell you that so that you know that even though it gets better, it’s not an instant fix. It will take time. For me it is taking time even though it’s been three years since the beginning of my transitional phase in my own paradigm change. Alright, let’s get to it.
In the Fall of 2018 I was at a new congregation in southwest Florida. At the time I was still drifting somewhere in the discontinuity and disembedding stage, but had you asked me where I was, I probably would have said stability. What I didn’t know is that I was on top of a mountain which was held up by my new ministry but, like a rollercoaster, was about to unexpectedly and suddenly plummet hundreds of feet.
The thing about this process that I’ve laid out is that there are ebbs and flows. If it was static then it would be a lot easier, but I believe that people tend to drift between the first three stages before setting out on the path of transition. Once they’re on that route, they will still experience the drifting, as I do to this day thanks to what Brian McLaren calls our “inner fundamentalist.”
Thankfully, though, I believe the path is on a trajectory upwards. Whether or not it plummets again is yet to be seen, but I believe I am better equipped to handle it now more than ever.
At this new congregation, I studied quite a bit. I would sit at the beach and fly through books and papers. My friend O.B. and I would talk on the phone often. One day, he wanted me to read a book called Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Laura will probably remember how I would lie in the floor of her classroom in her reading nook while reading in the afternoons as she graded papers.
After I finished that book, I started another called Jesus Wants to Save Christians. I was a Christian that needed “saving,” and this book did just that for me.
To be one hundred percent honest with you, I didn’t think too much of Rob or his first book at first.
He didn’t quote Scripture the way I did, and the things he talked about made someone like me very uncomfortable, someone who likes to have black and white answers for everything. I was telling a friend of mine the other day that if someone says “both and” one more time to me I’m libel to go ballistic. (Of course, that was my inner fundamentalist talking.)
So what made me like Jesus Wants to Save Christians so much? In the introduction, Rob writes, “This book is our attempt to articulate a specific theology, a particular way to read the Bible, referred to by some as a New Exodus perspective. One New Exodus scholar is a British theologian named Tom Holland, who has done pioneering work in this approach.”
Tom Holland happens to be one of my favorite authors. His book Contours of Pauline Theology is one I refer back to regularly, and his commentary on Romans is a must-have in my opinion.
But this line in the introduction didn’t make any sense to me. How can someone like Rob Bell, who I unfortunately viewed as somewhat biblically shallow, name drop someone like Tom Holland and dedicate an entire book to discussing his perspective? That’s when it hit me. Something else is going on here.
As I read that book, I began to see between the lines. I began to see the bigger picture. There was more to Rob than meets the eye. So Jesus Wants to Save Christians had a major impact on the way I view ministry. It also helped to put something into perspective, something a friend of mine tried to tell me years ago, something she probably didn’t fully grasp at the time herself. Let me tell you, even though what she told me took awhile to bring about change in her own life, the Spirit was working in her that day.
We were talking, and I was distraught. People just didn’t get what I believed, and I was on the verge of being let go from my ministry job.
“But why is it so important?” she asked.
“It’s the truth! The truth is important!” I replied.
“Look at that guy over there cutting grass,” she said as she pointed to a man cutting grass without a shirt, “Do you think he cares about prophecy? He needs Jesus, not a correct view of Revelation.” (She was part of the group that views everyone else as going to Hell too, so it was safe for us to assume at the time that an “immodest” man cutting grass was on that wide way to destruction.)
Jesus Wants to Save Christians is a book is about two numbers. The back of the book says: “There is a church in our area that recently added an addition to their building which cost more than $20 million. Our local newspaper ran a front-page story not too long ago revealing that one in five people in our city lives in poverty.” They go on to write, “It’s a book about…oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate, and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from.”
As they outlined all the evils in the world, evils that are unfortunately supported by people claiming to be Jesus followers, it really put my faith into perspective. These debates and discussions about theology were and are important, but what does God care more about?
When I began asking this question, God began giving me answers through Scripture.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.Matthew 23:23
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.Matthew 5:23–24
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”Matthew 12:1–7
They hate him who reproves in the gate, And they abhor him who speaks with integrity. Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor And exact a tribute of grain from them, Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, Yet you will not live in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, You who distress the righteous and accept bribes And turn aside the poor in the gate.Amos 5:10–12
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.Romans 13:8–10
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.Matthew 25:31–46
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.James 5:1–6
My doctrine! My beliefs! My hours of study! What good were they doing when my neighbor was going hungry? What good were they doing when people are living in poverty? What good were they doing when I
God help me.
When I was
When I was almost joyful knowing that I would never die in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub because I’m a heterosexual Christian. That I would never be raped behind a dumpster at a bar because I don’t drink at bars. And I was so proud of this that I posted it on Facebook for all to see.
Forgive me Lord.
People fleeing their tyrannical government. Children starving. Parents risking their lives to give their kids a better life. Innocent people dying in military conflict. Injustice. Terror. Death. Destruction.
But look at me! I figured out Revelation!!
God forgive me.
I know how to interpret Matthew 24 better than my mom and dad! Yay me!
God help me.
What has happened?
I learned that my doctrinal disputes are nothing, nothing in light of the pain and suffering in the world. This began a transformation of my priorities from doctrines to people, from being right to loving right, from tithing spices to a focus on the weightier matters: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
This led to a major transition in my view of Christianity, fellowship, and the nature of God.
Is someone who loves God with all their heart, loves their neighbors as themselves, but worships with an instrument really going to burn in Hell forever or be annihilated? Is someone who loves God with all her heart, loves her neighbor as herself, but is a minister going to be rejected by God because she takes an active, public roll in the assembly? What kind of god is that? Would I even want to serve that kind of god? Is that really who Jesus revealed God to be? God forbid!
I think one reason we (I) focus on these things is because doctrine is a convenient escape from our (my) call to be harbingers of justice. When we (I) focus so much on patterns, methods, and beliefs, we (I) can hide behind those discussions and conveniently neglect our (my) duty to stand up to the empires of the world, fight to end poverty, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, clothe the naked, speak out against materialism, and do all the things that got Jesus killed.
I get lots of negative comments and messages when I say that I can have fellowship with someone, like my fiend Mike, who disagrees with me on baptism, but guess what! I would rather share Christian fellowship with someone who works with narcotics anonymous, helps the hungry, and is constantly looking for ways to love his neighbors and his enemies like Jesus did than be with someone who agrees with me doctrinally on paper but condemns everyone who doesn’t fit into our very specific mold.
This transition was a transition of priority. My new paradigm is one of action, not just beliefs. It’s one of doing, not just thinking.
I still love to study the Bible. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I believe it is a necessity. But I refuse to draw lines over doctrines, unless those doctrines bring harm to those around them. If I can find someone who believes in Jesus and loves their neighbor, I can enjoy Christian fellowship with that person regardless of our doctrinal differences.
How infinitely small they seem when there is so much work to be done! I imagine if we were so busy trying to live like Jesus, we wouldn’t have time to fight about doctrines as much as we do.
God help us. We need reformation, which happens to be the next stage in paradigm change.