Thoughts When Someone Is No Longer a Christian

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In recent weeks, I have had to grapple yet again with a myriad of thoughts and feelings when someone has announced publicly that they are no longer a Christian.

The other day I became aware of a post on Instagram from Jon Steingard, lead singer of Hawk Nelson. In that post, he said, “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life – I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”

A few years ago I attended a Tenth Avenue North concert with my bestie. Hawk Nelson was one of the openers. Drops in the Ocean. Live Like You’re Loved. Man, those songs are incredible! I have greatly appreciated those songs many times over the years. And now Jon states that he “can no longer stand on stage and in good conscience sing songs like ‘Drops in the Ocean.'”

The comments and various discussions on Facebook have been interesting. Jon is far from the first to walk away from an evangelical Christian background. No matter who it is, there will always be the classic comments….

“Well, he must not have really been saved in the first place.”

“Well, he must just be trying to get attention. Why else would he say this publicly?”

“Well, he must not have read the Bible, because the Bible clearly says x, y, and z.”

Jon did receive many many kind and loving comments as well. To be honest, he received a lot more gracious comments than I would have expected, given the extreme backlash of others who have posted similarly. I commend people like Mike Donehey from Tenth Avenue North, who said, “Man I love that you shared this. You know I’m always around to talk about our belief in God or lack thereof. Love you and always will.”

I am impressed by Jon. So much of his posts resonated with me. So many of the questions he said he has wrestled with are questions I have wrestled with too. Big questions. Questions that are scary. In short, questions that freak out the church. The openness, honesty, and humility that it takes to publicly admit something like that is huge. He lived a Christian life publicly from stage, so after agonizing over the decision (his words), he publicly shared where he is now. That is huge. That takes a tremendous amount of courage, and I cannot help but applaud that.

In his initial post as well as in follow-up posts from today, Jon mentions how he has “spoken with so many people who feel the same things as me, but are terrified to speak up about it. Unspoken doubts and feelings like this are poisonous and corrosive to our hearts – and I hope this encourages people who are working up the courage to be more open and transparent about both their faith and their doubts.”

Why is it that church is a place where it is not safe to ask questions? Or have doubts? I hear the outcry, “Oh yes, church is a safe space! Ask anything!” But really…if certain questions are asked, pearls are clutched. “Well, now, that’s a slippery slope.” “The Bible clearly says…” “I’ll pray for you.” “If you really cared about the truth of Scripture, you would understand xyz.” And so the gatekeepers are out in full force. And people are forced to either stay quiet, or be put outside the camp because “the Christians” think that you don’t care about God. I wish I was exaggerating. This has happened to me and it has happened to many others.

Why is it that Jon (as he noted in one of his posts) and myself were bracing ourselves for such a strong backlash from Christians in his comments? Why is it that Christians, the ones who claim to follow Christ in love, are the first to condemn and speak harshly instead of giving love, grace, and support? Why is it that Christians think that a comment like “How dare you?” would possibly incline someone to reconsider their position and turn to God? (Thinking specifically about many of the comments given to Josh Harris after he posted in a similar vein as Jon.)

Why can we not applaud someone’s honesty and vulnerability? “Oh, but we can’t applaud someone who is giving up on God.” Would you rather he lie? Shove it under the rug? Why can we not embrace people, as image bearers of God, and come along side them for the journey and show the love of God who leaves the 99 to go after the 1?

It is emotional to read posts like his. Of course there are so many emotions. Sadness, grief, understanding, empathy, fear. But at the end of the day, I choose to stand alongside Jon. And Josh. And all the other people who are being real about their faith and their doubts.

There’s Nothing to See Here (Or – How I’ve Changed)

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I have been really wanting to get back into blogging.  I frequently have ideas for topics to explore in a post and I have a huge file with such a list.

Every time I sit down to write though, something stops me.  I think it’s mostly fear.

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Fear of what people will think.  Fear that I will disappoint people or shock people or hurt people.  Fear that people will think that I am a different person on my blog than I am in real life.  Fear that people will think I’m too vulnerable.  Fear that people will think that I am sinfully stuck in grief.  Fear that people will assume rude or untrue things about my parents or upbringing.

It’s a hard bondage to be in.  But I’m tired of being in that bondage to fear.  I just want to be me, a twenty something woman who is pursuing the Lord, and who doesn’t shy away from the bumps, bruises, questions, and doubts along the way.

So here is an attempt to do that.

I came across this blog post recently and loved it.  I was somewhat a follower of hers back in the day and I was excited to discover her current blog.  The part that stood out to me the most though was when she said, “There’s nothing to see here.”

I have changed a lot over the years.  It’s true.  I have asked questions and re-evaluated what I believe on so many issues….how I dress, the music I listen to, parenting, marriage, divorce, gender, tattoos, vaccinations, healthy living, legalism, 4 letter words, homeschooling, hair color, body piercings, body image, the Bible itself, the character of God, homosexuality, dating/courting, etc.

On some of those issues, I have changed completely from what I used to believe.  On some I have changed slightly.  On some I haven’t changed at all.  I think you would be hard pressed to find any person who has not changed quite a bit over the last decade or more.

I know some probably look at me and see a completely different person than I was 10, 15 years ago.  And I have a lot of fear of man there.  I fear that people will think I’m just running as far away as I can from what I used to believe.  I fear that people will think that I am discarding the Bible and cherry-picking Bible verses to fit what I want to believe.

What people can’t see, though, is the years and years that literally went into each one of those issues.  I can’t think of a single issue that I didn’t pour hours and hours and years and years of thought, prayer, tears, and Bible searching into.  I haven’t changed willy-nilly.  I am not discarding the Bible, and I am taking care to hold my questions and beliefs (changing or unchanging) up to the light of God’s word.  I read from scholars, authors, and bloggers, on both sides of issues, to make sure I am grasping fully different “sides.”

There’s nothing to see here.  I am just a person who is trying to follow hard after God.  I am just a person who has learned that I would much rather be someone who has doubts and questions and takes them to God than a person who is comfortable with her beliefs and doesn’t continually hold them to Scripture. I am learning to hold many of my beliefs lightly, willing to see if I am in error.

And I feel awake!  Awake to God’s grace, His glory, His joy, His fullness.  I didn’t know if the light would ever shine this way again and I am continually thankful for the work He has done in my life.

I am currently going through Beth Moore’s Children of the Day devotional with a friend, and one of the sections this week was on the topic of being awake.  She was discussing 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6, and the part about being awake as children of the day.  She proceeded to describe what being awake is like.

“Then, blessed be the Name of the Lord, something wakes us up.  Maybe we’ll never be thankful for what shook us out of our slumber, but we can be thankful at least to feel wide-awake.

“Awake to the activity of God around us.

“Awake to His Word on the surface of that page.

“Awake to the lightning before before we hear the thunder.

“Awake to our present season.  Awake to our people.  Awake even to our pain lest it end up meaning nothing…..

“To be awake is to still have questions and not just tidy summations….

“To be awake is to still grapple with mystery….This is the paradox of the crucified life: to lose ourselves in Christ is to find our very lives.”

It is an incredible thing to be awake.  To be alive.  To be walking in dynamic movement in the power of God.  It is sobering.  And humbling.  And sometimes scary.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So there’s no crazy story here.  The only thing here to see is the working of God and that is a pretty powerful thing to see.

 

Book Review: I Tried Until I Almost Died

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I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who has struggled with depression, discouragement, legalism, or living in the try-hard life.

It is obvious from start to finish that Sandra McCollom has experienced the anxiety and frustration she’s talking about.  She’s not just preaching.  So much of what she said put words into how I have felt…..”battle weary from trying to live the Christian life”….or at times doing all the right things “desperately trying to be worth something.”

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This book is about grace.  Grace is on every page.  Jesus is on every page.  The author shares some of her personal story in living in legalism and she talks about how God broke through those walls and opened her eyes to the truth of His grace.

From repeating truth to yourself to recognizing and receiving His grace right in the midst of temptation, Sandra gives practical and wisdom-filled advice on how to run into His arms of grace.

Only negatives to the book were a couple times where it seemed as if the author was hinting toward a prosperity gospel (ie, success in your business or financial life will come as you learn to rely on His grace)….and a few other places where Bible verses were taken out of context.  So, as always, read with a humble heart and discerning mind.

Overall, I am very thankful that I read this book!!!

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for free in exchange for this review.

-Bonnie

When Those Doubts Creep Back In

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I had written that big blog series on the season of intense doubt and discouragement I went through.

I scheduled them on the blog.

They sat for a while.

And then one day I decided to re-read the posts.  As I was making my way through what I had written, my chest tightened.  My heart felt heavy.  My pulse quickened.  My mind raced.

What if I don’t really believe that?  What if I have a relapse?  What if I’m deceiving myself?  How do I know if I believe hard enough?

Guess what?  The Bible doesn’t say, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart so hard that joy never forsakes you, you will be saved.”   It doesn’t say, “If you believe hard enough that your doubts instantly forsake you.”

It says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

God does not have some sort of divine Believe-o-meter that He holds me up to each day.  Belief is not some sort of mystical feeling that I need to conjure up.  I still wrestle with how feelings and faith intertwine, but I am 100% confident that God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are not dependent on my feelings.

I share this to let you know that I do not have it all together.  But I also know that I can’t wait until I do have it all together.  Because you know what?  I never will.  I will never be perfect this side of heaven.  I might always have questions.  I might even always have doubts.  But I cannot wait to live my life until I am perfect or until I know I believe hard enough.

All I can do is walk each day, each moment, looking to Jesus.  I have taken courage from Paul’s words in Philippians 3, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

Looking behind does no good.  As my Hebrews teacher in college said…..you can’t run the race looking behind you.  It does no good to look back and long for the “good years” of my spiritual life.  It does no good to fall down when I sin and stay there.  It does no good to turn around and stare at all my sins.  The race is in front of me.  The race is today.  The race is right now.

Yes, I will fall again.  I will sin.  I will doubt.  I will grow weary.  But I will not and can not wait until I am perfect to run the race.  If God has brought me this far….I know He will not abandon me now.

And if you are reading this….I would absolutely love your prayers!!!

-Bonnie

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Part Four Part Five Part Six
Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Part Ten Part Eleven Part Twelve
Part Thirteen Part Fourteen

Resources for the Depressed or Discouraged

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I began collecting some resources that were encouraging as I was going through everything and processing things.  I hope that these are encouraging to you as well!  (Note: I don’t necessarily endorse the authors overall.  These specific posts, books, or portions thereof were just very encouraging and helpful to me!)

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Blog Posts: 

The Myth of the Lukewarm Christian

Broken

How Does Jesus Love You?

Because You’re Mine

I Want a Break from God

Unlearning Christianity

Wretched Sinner

Because YOU are {HIS}!!!

Experiencing Grace

Dear God, Am I Good Enough for You Yet?

Crying at Bridal Showers: Lessons about Contentment and Perseverence

Is There Any Value in Experiencing Deep Shame?

What If I’m Not Meant to be Saved?

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Books:

Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough by Jefferson Bethke

Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Bethke

When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper

Videos: 

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Music:

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Part Four Part Five Part Six
Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Part Ten Part Eleven Part Twelve

My Life Has Been Transformed

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The message of Christianity is not ‘Worldliness is bad.’ It’s ‘Jesus is Lord.’ It’s not ‘Try not to sin.’ It’s ‘Think about Jesus.’

When you look to Jesus, you see that your urges to sin are suppressed on their own. When you look to Jesus, you see peace, love, joy, freedom, better than anything in the world. When you look to Jesus, you see you don’t need any worldly pseudo-religious substitutes for closeness to Him. When you look to Jesus, you see that in Him you are already dead to the world. When you look to Jesus, you see that in Him you are already alive. – Eric Pazdziora

And so now I am done.  I am done with religion.  I am done with trying.  I am done with analyzing.  I am done with doing my best.

I want Jesus.  I need Jesus.

The answer is not more introspection.  The answer is not to become more on fire.  The answer is not to read the Bible longer or to pray harder.  The answer is Jesus.  Look to Jesus.  Lean on Jesus.  Become encompassed by Jesus.

I want to not only forget the man-made rules I imposed on myself at various points in time, but I want to throw off the chains I have wrapped around myself.  The chains of guilt.  The chains of unworthiness.  The chains of lies.  The chains of fear.

After taking a break and just soaking in the truth that God brought to me, I have experienced several victories.

One night after a particularly difficult day, a Bible verse popped into my head.  This may not seem like much, but for me, it was huge.  I didn’t have to stop and try to think and pull up a mental Bible verse index card.  It popped into my head.  I wasn’t trying.  It was there.

And then, slowly, I began to want to read the Bible.  I have not jumped into a regimented “daily reading” plan yet, but I am rejoicing in those moments where it is an actual desire.  Not something I need to do to be a better Christian.

I started to pray.  Sometimes it was purposeful, when I chose to pray.  Sometimes it wasn’t, and prayers just formed themselves in my mind.

And I began to sing again.  I used to always sing…..but at some point, I’m not sure when, I stopped.  I have noticed over the past few months that my voice has come back.  Suddenly I’ll find myself singing hymns, old and new alike.

I have not finished learning my lesson.  I have not arrived at perfection.  I still have to speak truth to myself.  I still sometimes have that old familiar terror grip my chest.

But I am growing.  I am resting.  I can feel God wooing me to Himself.  I can feel my soul slowly but surely heal.

I have been reminded that I cannot do anything to make God love me more.  I can’t do anything that will make Him more pleased with me.

Why?  Because when He sees me….He sees Jesus’ blood.   Jesus truly paid it all.  I do not have that sin in black all over me.  I do not have those chains.  Jesus’ blood covered.  His blood cleansed.  His blood made pure.  His blood made whole.  That is what God sees when He looks at me.  He sees His child.  His redeemed.  His friend.  His own.

My sin?  It doesn’t make Him push me away.  It doesn’t make Him love me less.  He saw me in the midst of my unrepentant sin and He chose to touch my heart and draw me to Him.  He saved me out of sin.  Salvation is through God’s work alone.  Sanctification is through God’s work alone.

And for that I am thankful.  So, so thankful.

It took a lot for me to write this.  And then to share it publicly.  I truly hope that it has encouraged someone.  There is hope.  There is.  I would absolutely love to hear from you and pray for you.  If you want, you can leave a comment.  Or you can email me privately at lifewithyou1222 (at) gmail (dot) com.

God bless.

-Bonnie

Part One Part Two Part Three
Part Four Part Five Part Six
Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Part Ten Part Eleven

I am Spoken For!

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Another book that I needed.  Spoken for by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Bethke.

I knew that God loved me.  I grew up singing “Jesus Loves Me.”  I don’t know when or how I started to doubt.  But somewhere along the way it happened.

Could God really care for me?  Doesn’t my sin push Him away?  Didn’t that sin I just committed push Him over the edge?  Doesn’t He get tired of me?

This book talks about how God is relentlessly pursuing you.  It talks about the verses where God is likened to a bridegroom rejoicing over you – His bride.

So often I have heard God’s love downplayed.  That phrases like “passionate love” and “great romance” lower God’s love to us to the realm of a touch-feely romance.  I must beg to differ.

When I think of how much my husband loved me on our wedding day…..that is a ton of love.  If God is likened to a bridegroom….that is some serious, passionate love.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us.” – 1 John 3:1

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.” – Isaiah 62:5

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end.  They are
new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
-Lamentations 3:22-23

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is freedom.”  – 2 Corinthians 3:17

That is some deep, deep love.

At one point in the book, Robin shares a story of how her husband told her she apologized too much.  Always apologizing for things that she didn’t even do.  My husband and I have had that very conversation many times.

“That’s a trap of the enemy,’ he said.

‘A trap? What do you mean?’

He reassured me that if I apologized or asked forgiveness for my mistake, then that was the end of it.  In God’s eyes, my sin was tossed into the deepest sea.  It was ridiculous for me to paddle out and fish around to pull my failures back up just so I could hold them high to say, ‘Look at how I messed up.  I’m so sorry.'”

That is exactly how I have acted so many times.  But the Bible tells us that our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).  And the Bible also says that God’s word is completely true (Joshua 21:45, Numbers 23:19, John 17:17).

This book talked about how I am precious to God.  Me.  Precious.

I don’t believe this concept is too far fetched.  God is likened to a Father many times throughout Scripture.  When I think about my love for my son and how precious he is to me….I realize that that is the kind of love God has for me.  Not stoic, stagnant, theological love.  Real love.  Real feelings.  Real delight.  Real joy.  For me.

This book talked about how God pursues me.  Even in the Garden of Eden, God set the precedent.  Adam and Eve sinned, and still God came to them.  He knew 100% that they had sinned.  That they had failed Him.  And yet He still came.  He initiated.  He pursued.

This book talked about how God loves me.  I realized how much I was believing that love is temperamental….it can come and go.  That one day a person can be happy and in love, the next day they can be cranky, frustrated, and upset at you.  But God is not a person.  He is true love.  He is pure love.  God’s love came to me when I was yet a sinner.  He began the pursuit when I was a sinner.  He is not shocked now by my sin, by my mistakes.  He chose me in the midst of my sin.

This book was huge.  I desperately needed to know and believe the love of God toward me.  It spoke to my heart.  The knowledge of God’s love is absolutely life-changing.

-Bonnie

When the Darkness will not Lift

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In the midst of all of this, I remembered a book that has been sitting on my shelf for years.  I decided to finally pull it off the shelf and read it.

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When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper……oh my goodness.  I needed that.  It wasn’t a long, in-depth, “religious” book.  It’s 79 pages and written perfectly for the depressed, discouraged, jaded, and weary.

He talks about that mustard seed of faith.  Even if it is minuscule…even if it is a mustard seed….it is still faith.  I don’t have to try to increase my faith.  I don’t have to try so hard to get mountain moving, earth shaking faith.  I just need faith.

I don’t need to be so ashamed at church because I am not focusing on the hymns and because my heart is shaky repeating some of the lyrics.  Those parts of the lyrics I can sing?  That is my faith.  I can own that.  Rejoice in that.  That part of my heart is real.  That is Jesus working.

“Stop looking at your faith.  And rivet your attention on Christ.”  – page 41

Over and over and over this book ministered to my very soul.

“It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand o God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him.” – pg 37

It was so reassuring to know that I am not the only one who has felt like I simply cannot hold on any longer.  And so reassuring to realize…..I don’t have to.

“Our faith rises and falls.  It has degrees.  But our security does not rise and fall.  It has no degrees.  We must persevere in faith.  That’s true.  But there are times when our faith is the size of a mustard seed and barely visible.  In fact, the darkest experience for the child of a God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight.  Not out of God’s sight, but out of his own sight.  Yes, it is possible to be so overwhelmed with darkness that you do not know if you are a Christian – and yet still be one.” – pg. 38

Again…..hugely reassuring to know that I was not alone in feeling this way.  I was not a bad Christian.  And even on my darkest days, God’s vision never faltered, His hand never wavered.  He could still see me and He was still holding me.

He quoted from Richard Baxter: “Say not, that you are unfit for thanks and praises unless you have a praising heart and were the children of God: for every man, good and bad, is bound to praise God, and to be thankful for all that he hath received, and to do it as well as he can, rather than leave it undone….Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better.  Thanksgiving stirrteth up thankfulness in the heart.” – pg 52

“The decisive blow against Satan’s destructive power was delivered by the death of Jesus for our sins (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14).  This means that Satan can harass us and even kill us, but he cannot destroy us.  Only unforgiven sin can damn the human soul.  If Christ has covered all our sin by his blood, and if God imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ, then Satan has no grounds for any damning accusation, and his case against us fails in the court of heaven.” – page 57

Yes!!  Yes, yes, yes!!  My heart soared as I realized anew that all that guilt piled upon me was not from God.  Satan’s case against me…my case against myself…..fails!!!!

Just because I struggled with all those things does not mean that I was not a Christian.  Real Christians have these struggles with pain and deep anguish.

This book was life changing.  Or rather….the truth contained within it was life changing.  I am so, so thankful that years ago my sister gave it to me and that I kept it.  I am so thankful that I thought of it that day and decided to read it.

-Bonnie

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Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine