Let’s ride

bull riding

At an outdoor fair in Colorado Springs, I rode a mechanical bull – or more accurately, a mechanical buffalo. Regardless, I didn’t just pose atop the beast. In spite of everything that could have kept me from it, I got on that bronco and rode.

For me, that ride illustrates living life, not as a religious Christian, but as a friend of God. It reminds me of the promise in Malachi 4:2, “You will go out and leap like calves [or mechanical-bull riders?] released from the stall.”

It’s alarmingly easy to become a “religious Christian,” imprisoned inside “stalls” Christ died to free us from. But you, be released to ride!

Read more on the page, Come out! Be free!

Return to my rest

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 CEB)

Return to Your RestIn December 2013, I had written all but one chapter of a book manuscript exploring Jesus’ wonderful, but seemingly impossible, invitation, “Come to me … and I will give you rest.” I knew the thrust of the final chapter, but had no words even to begin it.

After reviewing and editing the other chapters, I set the manuscript aside for the holidays, thinking I would write the closing chapter in January 2014 and have a new ebook published by spring. It would be titled, Return to Your Rest.

January 6, 2014, my father went in for a heart cath. January 13, he underwent open heart surgery. February 1, he died. At his passing, I wrote two posts that expressed the grief and acceptance I felt: “Homecoming” and “Eulogy.”

I didn’t know that the months ahead held far more than natural grief. For my father’s death triggered a series of events that turned my world upside down.

I’ve had other hard years, mind you, but 2014 proved the darkest yet. Strangely, as the year progressed, I had a strong sense that God was birthing something – almost as if I myself had re-entered the womb. Along the way, I could see glimpses of profound things the Lord was accomplishing. But that didn’t mean it felt good.

Most definitely, the rest I’d enjoyed previously had fled. For months, my thoughts and emotions ricocheted everywhere. At the same time, the Spirit of Christ continually said to my spirit:

The source of your rest lies in him who has invited you and to whom you have come. He has not forsaken you. His rest will return, if you do not give up but rather press in with Jesus to go through.

As the months of 2014 passed, I didn’t even try to revisit my manuscript or to start that elusive last chapter. I dared not return to my book until I had returned to my rest.

By the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, I had begun to see light and to feel lighter. Once again, I started reading and meditating on the psalm that, a year earlier, God had showed me would form the heart of that last chapter. It’s Psalm 23, David’s song of rest.

As I pondered and waited before the Lord, words began to flow again, along with the release to write them. At last, I saw what God the Spirit was showing me in this beautiful song.

What I had gained in the interim wasn’t so much new insight, mentally, as it was new awareness in my inmost part. Having walked the valley of the shadow in 2014, I can now sing David’s song from a deeper, richer place.

Life’s struggles and battles will continue, of course. And there may be other seasons when rest seems to have permanently fled. But now, from experience, I can say to myself and to you:

No matter how completely God’s rest seems to have disappeared from your life, he still holds it out, and he makes the way for you to return.

This week, I wrote the last chapter of my soon-to-be book. Once again, I’m singing a song of rest.

God who sees me

The “God Who” Series

God sees you.

Any given moment, it may frighten you – or delight you – to realize that. Either way, it’s an incredibly important truth to embrace.

Cat under a towel

© adassel / freeimages.com

When you’re doing something you want to keep hidden because, deep down, you know it’s wrong, a healthy fear of the God who sees you could stop you in your tracks and save you a world of grief.

Doom to those who hide their plan deep, away from the Lord, whose deeds are in the dark, who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” (Isa. 29:15 CEB).

The one who made the ear, can’t he hear? The one who formed the eye, can’t he see? The one who disciplines nations, can’t he punish? The one who teaches humans, doesn’t he know? (Ps. 94:9-10 CEB).

Cat hidden

© poetprince / freeimages.com

When you feel your situation, your need, even your existence is hidden – that no one with any compassion and authority to help you even knows you exist – Hagar’s story can set you up for a God-encounter of your own.

Hagar – the servant that Sarai and Abram exploited and then turned against, the pregnant woman who ran out into the desert, hopeless and alone – found herself miles from anywhere, beside a spring. Even more important, God found her there. Firmly, compassionately, he spoke to her, instructed her and made rock-solid promises to her.

“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.’ She asked, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?’” (Gen. 16:13 NLT).

The God who saw Hagar sees you. When you think you’re hidden, be blessed to know: You’re not.

. . . . . . .

The God Who series

Again and again, the “God who …” phrases in Scripture reveal God’s works. As we respond to our Lord deep within, receiving what he communicates Spirit-to-spirit, those phrases also reveal his ways.

“God Who” article – introducing the series
Posts in the “God Who” series

The ‘adulthood’ dilemma

The ‘Adulthood’ Dilemma series – #3.
Adapted from What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé.

Eye-to-eye equality

Here I am, learning eye-to-eye equality.

Recently, I found myself in an incredibly frustrating and exhausting place: I was truly growing – learning to hear God clearly, stepping out to follow him fully, seeking the whole time to honor others, including and especially those who objected to my chosen path. More than ever before, I was thinking and acting like an adult. Yet certain people didn’t see me as an adult or treat me as an adult … because all of us have been caught up in a system that does not count me qualified for ‘adulthood.’

Even when I appealed to those people, even when I looked in their eyes and tried to explain the truth, they could not hear me. From their one-up/one-down perspective, my appeal sounded as foolish as if I were a six-year-old, pleading to take the car out for a spin. So they rejected my plea and continued trying to beat down the boundary I had set. If I responded by getting angry and throwing a fit, they were even more convinced that I’m no older than six.

Spirit-to-spirit process

How, then, do I attain full adulthood? How do any of us get counted as adults?

We cooperate with God, Spirit-to-spirit, in the maturing process he’s tailor-made for each of us.

I had missed a key step in that process, a step Henry Cloud describes this way in his book, Changes That Heal: “coming out from under the one-down relationship that a child has to parents and other adults and coming into an equal standing as an adult on his or her own.”

Until God showed me the truth, I had not realized how much I still remained under this system of thinking – how much I was struggling to find my place somewhere in the world of one-up/one-down.

Eye-to-eye equality

As I sat before the Lord, undone by what he was revealing, he began to instruct me what to do in response. Here’s what he said:

Keep cooperating with ME in the maturing process. That process is ongoing as long as you live. Yet, you can reach a place of adulthood in this process. In fact, something’s wrong if you don’t. I designed you to grow up spiritually, as surely as I designed you to grow up physically.

Stop agreeing to act as if other adults are your parents and you are still a child. Listening to wise counsel is vastly different from seeking parental approval. Honoring your leaders does not mean looking to them for permission to think, feel or act. Repent for agreeing with a sinful, hierarchical system that categorizes adults as one-up/one-down.

Do not agree that you must live your life one-down. Renounce the lie that says a seminary degree qualifies you for adulthood. Renounce the lie that women are too emotional and too easily deceived to be able to hear the Lord for themselves. Know in the depths of your being: Womanhood does not disqualify a person from adulthood. Refuse to live as if it does.

But also, do not agree to the lie that you’re to be one-up. Repent for every attempt you’ve made to live toward other adults as parent-toward-perennial-child. Beware of relying on a title or position to make you feel grown up. Beware of counting either gender “less than” the other. Refuse the lie that your adulthood hinges on other adults being one-down to you.

Instead, actively affirm the adulthood of others. Ask ME to teach you moment-by-moment, from your heart, to see other people eye-to-eye.

As I’ve begun to walk out what God has showed me, I’ve seen a remarkable thing. Wherever people treat one another with eye-to-eye equality, we’re all affirmed in our adulthood. We all become more adult.

People caught in a one-up/one-down system may still rebuke me for walking in maturity. They may still pressure me to stop. But I’ve renounced agreement with that system. Now I see: The perceptions it creates are illusions. The people to whom I had looked for approval aren’t one-up at all.

As I relinquish all need for permission from anyone other than God, I no longer feel battered by others’ attempts to pressure me. When nothing in me is pleading for their approval, nothing in them has anything to push against.

What About Women?Adapted from chapter 12, What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé, © 2013 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.

Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud (Zondervan, 1990, 1992), Mobipocket Edition March 2009.

Other posts in The ‘Adulthood’ Dilemma series:
#1 – Case of the battered boundaries
#2 – Prolonged infancies

Look inside What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé
What About Women? webpage

Prolonged infancies

The ‘Adulthood’ Dilemma series – #2.
Adapted from What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé.

Children in a Church, by Gwen John. Scan by Mark Harden

Children in a Church, by Gwen John. Scan by Mark Harden

God created us to grow to adulthood – spirit, soul and body. Scripture calls us to do just that. The role of leaders, like the role of parents, is to encourage and affirm this process, not to ensure that everyone except the leaders remains perpetually one-down. Paul modeled the type of fathering that raises up adults – and releases people into adulthood.

He wrote to the believers in Corinth, still young in the Lord:

I’m writing as a father to you, my children. I love you and want you to grow up well, not spoiled. There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up (1 Cor. 4:14–15 MSG).

Paul instructed the Ephesian leaders:

Train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all … fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up (Eph. 4:12–15 MSG).

Paul told the Colossian church:

We teach … so that we can bring each person to maturity (Col. 1:28 MSG).

Sadly, our church culture does just the opposite of what Paul modeled – while convincing ourselves we’re doing it the biblical way. We may point to all the sermons, programs and conferences whereby the wise train the immature to grow up – to own their responsibility to hear God and to act on what he says. Yet the system we’ve created perpetuates spiritual infancy indefinitely, and often severely punishes those who try to mature.

In a nutshell, our system enforces one-up/one-down relationships as the norm among Christian adults. “Clergy” are one-up to “laity.” Men are one-up to women. Whites are one-up to everyone else. The one-down are taught that they must always seek wisdom and permission from the one-up. Only the one-up are adult enough to hear God clearly on the truly important stuff.

Thus, in the name of biblical submission, whole groups of adults agree to being treated like perennial babes.

What About Women?Adapted from chapter 12, What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé, © 2013 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.

Posts in The ‘Adulthood’ Dilemma series

Look inside What About Women?A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé
What About Women? webpage

Case of the battered boundaries

The ‘Adulthood’ Dilemma series – #1.
Adapted from What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé.

© Tammy McGary

© Tammy McGary

I could write a book about boundaries. Oh wait! Someone already did. I read the book several years ago, desperate for help.

If you missed it, Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, teaches that people have boundaries, just as surely as property does. Property boundaries mark where one parcel ends and another begins. Personal boundaries mark where one person ends and another begins.

People dispute property boundaries all the time. People challenge personal boundaries too. Typically, the biggest disputes over personal boundaries involve two types of people:

  • Those who run roughshod over the boundaries of others;
  • Those who let others run roughshod over them – ignoring any boundary they set.

When I read Boundaries, I finished the book still perplexed. According to everything Cloud and Townsend described, I should have been in a good place, boundary-wise. It was my heart’s desire and my practice to honor other people’s boundaries. I also sought to establish healthy limits and was not easily guilted or coerced to let others mow them down.

Yet, something alarming had begun to happen: I would set a healthy boundary. I would identify it clearly and with kindness: “This is what I can do, and will do gladly. This, in good conscience, I cannot.” When tested, I maintained the boundary consistently. Yet in crucial situations, my boundaries were not being honored. Rather, I was pressured without ceasing to take them down.

In every case, the boundary involved a major issue – and a spiritual one. The line drawn marked a place I could not go beyond and still remain obedient to God. But people who should have been loudly encouraging the choice to follow God fully never stopped pushing against it. I faced instant and unrelenting pressure to recant – not just to move my boundary an inch or two, but to renounce it entirely. To stand where God had told me to stand, I had to exert an enormous amount of effort for a very long time.

According to the Boundaries book, that should not have happened. People tend to honor the boundaries of those who maintain them consistently. The boundaries may be tested immediately. But when they hold firm, the testers typically move on to people whose boundaries they can shift at will.

“Why is this happening?” I asked the Lord. At last, I began to see: The refusal to honor my boundaries hinged on the view of adulthood, in general, and womanhood, in particular, in the culture in which I live.


Adulthood described

In his book, Changes That Heal, Henry Cloud describes adulthood as a place of freedom, authority and “eye-to-eye equality” with other adults. Adults have freedom:

  • To make their own decisions without permission from others,
  • To evaluate and judge their own performance,
  • To choose their own values and opinions,
  • To disagree with others freely, and
  • To enjoy sexual relations with an equal spouse.

Adults also have freedom to give up rights and serve others in submission. Cloud writes, “When we submit in love, we are displaying our freedom; if we submit in compliance, it is not true submission. It’s slavery.”

Does that statement grab you like it did me? Reread it. Let it sink in.

Having substantial freedoms gives adults great authority. With freedom and authority comes a weighty responsibility. As adults, we’re accountable to God for every choice we make. Certainly, we’re not to live as islands. We’re to give and receive wise counsel, to exhort and confront one another in love. But “adults don’t need ‘permission’ from some other person to think, feel, or act.” Rather, adults answer directly to God.

Children, by contrast, relate to adults in a one-down/one-up relationship. Children need permission to make important decisions. If a child makes a choice the parents think unwise, they have the authority to intervene. In fact, if they see their child doing something harmful and don’t take action, they’re accountable. If parents say “no” to a child but the child persists in doing what the parents said to stop, the parents have a responsibility to stand firm and not to let the disobedient child have his or her way.

“Becoming an adult is the process of moving out of ‘one-up/one-down’ relationship and into a peer relationship to other adults.” Remaining “one-down” in relationships means “looking up to other adults for parental functions,” such as thinking for us, telling us how to live and what to believe.

We miss the important passage into full adulthood if we grow up physically, yet remain “one-down” in key relationships.


Adulthood denied

In every case where people have pushed relentlessly against my boundaries, they denied my adulthood. They saw themselves in a parental, one-up role in my life. If they had counted me an adult, they might have railed against my boundary temporarily, but when I said, “Thank you for your input. This is my choice,” they would have backed away and left me to sort it out with God. They did not do that. Instead, they determined, “One way or another, we will force you to comply.” In their minds, they are ones to whom I must listen and from whom I must get permission – and I’m nothing more than a rebellious child.

Adapted from chapter 12, What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé, © 2013 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.

What About Women?Quotations are from Changes That Heal, by Henry Cloud (Zondervan, 1990, 1992), Mobipocket Edition March 2009.

Posts in The ‘Adulthood’ Dilemma series

Look inside What About Women?
What About Women? webpage

Forgive us

Forgive Us

Twenty-first century evangelicals spend an extraordinary amount of time pointing out the sins evident in the culture. But instead of doing that, couldn’t the church make the confession of its own sins a higher priority?

Great insight. Great question, penned by the four authors of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith. In the introduction to this new release, Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah acknowledge:

Many people have grown angry and frustrated with organized religion – and with evangelical Christianity in particular. Too often the church has proven a source of pain rather than a place of hope … Forgive Us acknowledges the legitimacy of much of that anger and recognizes that the church through the ages has experienced significant brokenness, a brokenness that demands to be acknowledged and repented of.

The authors add:

Many Christians today are unaware of the events that mark the American church’s greatest tragedies. In Forgive Us, we seek to provide brief, accurate, and compelling histories of some of the church’s greatest shortcomings … When the church has a holistic understanding of its failings, repentance is the appropriate response.

I’m personally acquainted with three of the four authors of Forgive Us. They know I’ve written a book with a similar theme and are aware how profoundly I agree with the statements above. When they asked me to read a preview copy of their book and, if I chose, to write an endorsement, I said yes to both.

In Forgive Us, the authors courageously explore a variety of ways that we in the US church have treated shabbily both the land with which we’ve been entrusted and people made in the image of God. Further, they offer heartfelt confessions, inviting others to join in, and they highlight signs of hope for change.

In a similar way (compelling history, genuine confession, reasons for hope), I explore the more specific subject of the church’s sins surrounding the bloodiest division and war to date in US history. My book is called, We Confess! The Civil War, The South, and The Church. Interestingly, whether you’re looking at the broader picture of Forgive Us or the deeper one of We Confess, some strikingly parallel themes emerge.

First, we in the US church culture tend to have an “us vs. them” mentality, and we do not treat “them” as we ourselves would want to be treated.

Second, we have a propensity for both denial and pride. As the authors of Forgive Us have written:

The American church often chooses to ignore its own tainted history and move too quickly toward offering solutions for everyone else’s problems.

Third, the pathway that we’ve believed too hard – the way of confession and repentance – is the only way out. It’s the path to healing, reconciliation, life.

Consider these reflections from Forgive Us:

Godly grief does not paralyze with a pervasive sense of guilt. Rather, it identifies specific ways we have turned from God and offers a holy opportunity for the restoration of relationship with God, others, and the land by reconnecting our hearts to God’s heart and then to the hearts of those we have made to suffer. Godly grief leads to cleansing confession and repentance.

Godly confession tells the truth about God, about us, and about our actions. It tells the truth about the repercussions our actions have for us, our relationship with God, our families, others, the rest of creation, the systems that govern us, and life itself …

Godly lament and confession should lead to repentance, and repentance requires an about-face in our actions and a deep change in our way of life.

Thank you, Mae, Lisa, Troy and Soong-Chan, for choosing the path of confession and repentance, and opening the way for others to come too.

Quotations are from Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), pp. 29, 31, 32, 27, 24, 25.

. . . . . . .

Look inside Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

Look inside We Confess! The Civil War, The South, and The Church

Jesus, white men and me

Three months ago, I came across a post by blogger Christena Cleveland that has triggered something stunning deep in my spirit. In a way, Christena said the obvious. At the same time, she exposed what I’d been blinded to, and desperately needed to see.

Every time I read the piece, I think, at once, “Of course!” – and “Ah ha!”

(FYI: The post came to my attention via the Twitter feed of another blog, By Their Strange Fruit, which I found via the Between Worlds post, “101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices.” Thanks, everyone!)

Christena launches her post with an in-your-face title: “Dismantling the white male industrial complex.” Then she writes with a draw-you-in tone. Her article affirms:

WHITE MEN ARE NOT THE SECRET WEAPON (to dismantling racial injustice in the church and beyond) … BUT JESUS IS

Of course! I knew that. Long before seeing Christena’s post, I would have told you I knew that. But reading her words, I had a profoundly “Ah ha!” moment. Suddenly, I realized: I had looked to white men for what Jesus alone can give.

Running into brick walls

Brick wall

© Brenda Clark

In late 2011, I published We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, an in-your-face, yet draw-you-in, exploration of white-church complicity in injustice – pursuing the reasons behind it, the fruits of it, the way out. I wrote in the first-person, acknowledging: I confess for what I and my ancestors have done.

For more than two years, I earnestly, persistently, sought:

All those months, I continually asked Jesus what to do and how to do it. Yet, again and again, I ran hard into solid brick walls. What stunned and perplexed me most was that, each time I tried to move forward, I did so thinking, “This time, the way will be open before me.” Thus, I was moving full-speed-ahead when I hit the wall.

Now I realize: Every time I believed the way forward was finally opening, it was because I had connected with a white male leader whom I thought would rally the troops, burst through the gates and lead the charge. Surely, this man would see the importance of this confession. This man would humble himself to acknowledge the truth. This man would courageously involve others in doing the same.

Time and again, I was wrong. Indeed, when presented with the message of We Confess!, most of the men vanished – just as I charged ahead, believing they were charging too.

We Confess probes deep. It offers detailed, heartfelt confessions. While these confessions might be offered by other peoples in a variety of situations, the primary call to confess is to whites in the US church, both men and women. So it’s certainly not wrong for me to invite white leaders of both genders to participate. Yet, I confess my sin of pinning my hopes on white men, instead of Jesus, even when I believed I was trusting Jesus alone.

The light-bulb moment

By July of this year, I was battered and depleted from slamming into so many walls. My resources had dwindled. I had lost hope. Then, I read what Christena had written:

The truth is that the battle for justice won’t be won when white men finally join the fight. The battle was already won on the cross. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s here. It’s happening. It’s already been set in motion. We’re inevitably moving toward a world that reflects the prophetic reality of the resurrection. Justice will be done. All things will be made new. And Jesus graciously invites all of us to partner with him in that movement. We all can play a crucial role. But let’s never forget that Jesus is the secret weapon. Jesus has already determined the outcome of this battle and he will use whoever is willing to accomplish his plan. The Kingdom of God is at hand, whether white men participate or not.

Christena described “a different strategy” for seeking racial reconciliation and justice:

  • Turn toward the Holy Spirit – wait for, listen to and follow him.
  • Turn toward the oppressed – listen to, learn from and follow them.

“Of course!” I thought. “Ah ha!” Oh how much I have to learn.

A new way forward

Ever since We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church was published, people from the white church culture rooted in the Bible Belt have told me, “The church just isn’t ready for this message.” They mean, “Even now, 150 years out, we still aren’t ready to face our stuff.” If so, what a dangerous place for us to be. Because God is ready. God is sounding the call for a confession and repentance that deal with injustice at its roots.

In spite of everyone and everything that says otherwise, I believe the Lord led me to write a book named We Confess because fellow confessors are out there, white people who know how desperately we need to make this confession, and who are ready to make it. I’ve already met a few of them.

What’s more, I’ve met people who have suffered grave injustice at the hands of the white church culture and who have delighted in hearing this confession, as long as they see the accompanying changes that true repentance brings.

Eagerly seeking to see genuine confession and repentance happen on a larger scale, I’ve learned, up close and personally, just how high and thick are the walls that stand in the way.

Now recognizing how I’ve missed the mark, I’m deeply grateful the Lord is both correcting me and redeeming my sins and mistakes. Now regaining my breath, I want to get up and go forward again, but this time, by the Holy Spirit, to discern between the illusion of an open door and the truth.

Lord Jesus, you alone hold the keys to defeating injustice at its root. You alone open hearts that are closed to self-examination, out of pride or fear. You open, and no one can shut. With all my heart, I want to partner with you, and with others who are following you, in the forward movement you initiated through dying and rising again. By the Spirit, for the honor of the Father, show me where you are turning the key and throwing open the way.

. . . . . . .

We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the ChurchRead the full article, “Destroying the white male industrial complex.”

Learn more about We Confess! The Civil War, the South and the Church

Look Inside We Confess!

Learn more about the “We Confess …” film.

Give to the “We Confess …” film.