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.

Listen. Lament. Do the work.

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To say that the events of the past couple of weeks have been exhausting and draining is an understatement.

Ahmaud Abery.

Breonna Taylor.

George Floyd.

Protests. Riots. Looting. Case after case after case of police brutality and utilizing excessive force.

My heart is breaking. My soul is weary.

And I know that the way I have felt these past couple weeks is how BIPOC feel each and every day. For years.

There are so many things on my heart right now. All the discussions and nuances of privilege, racism, implicit biases, incarceration rates, police brutality, peaceful protests, violent protests.

But for now, I implore you…especially those of you who are white, especially those of you who are white and Christian.

Please.

Listen.

Listen to the people around you. Listen to Black voices. Listen to minorities. Listen to the people protesting. Listen to their stories.

Lament.

Allow this to break you. Hear and empathize and weep with the people around you. Weep with those who weep.

Do your work.

Be the Bridge is a great group on Facebook. They have a policy in place where you must be silent, listen, and simply read posts for 3 months after joining. They also include some great units to go through during your period of silence.

Ally Henny, on both Facebook and Instagram

Here are some great accounts on Instagram…
@Ckyourprivilege
@whitegirllearning
@austinchanning (Also can be found on Facebook)
@theconsciouskid

And here is an amazing resource with specific things you can learn and action steps to take.

I recognize that there are so many things that can be discussed on this topic. But for now, let’s listen, lament, and do our work.

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.

 

When God Changes Your Dream

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I had the privilege of writing my first guest post for a fellow blogger.  The Rosevine Cottage Girls were doing a series on how to trust and follow God when your dreams are changed or taken away.  I immediately thought of our dreams for a large family.  The path God has taken us down looks nothing like the dream I had for years.  It was (and is) a challenge to trust God with the new dreams He is bringing to us.

So here are a few thoughts from me about what to do when God changes your dream.

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December 22, 2011. I put on the most beautiful white gown and walked down the aisle to say “I do” to the man of my dreams. We were so happy that day. So insanely happy.

Since before we were married, my husband and I had thought that we would like about six children. We agreed that we would take it one child at a time, making sure that we were doing a good job parenting as unto the Lord before adding another child. But we thought the end result would probably be us having about six children.

After marriage, we moved into a 250 square foot apartment. It was tiny, but cozy and perfect for our first love nest. A baby would make it tight, but we knew we could do it for a few months until we moved out.

The months started to pass. We weren’t preventing pregnancy, so every month made me a bit more confused and discouraged as another negative pregnancy test greeted me.

Visit The Rosevine Cottage Girls to read the whole post.

Coming Down from the Mountaintop

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Have you ever had what they call a mountain-top experience?  Sometimes it’s a single event, sometimes it is a long period of time, but it is something that is so encouraging, so motivating, so life-giving, that it makes you soar and propels you forward.

I had a mountain-top experience last week.  A good friend of mine came out to visit and together we went to a Tenth Avenue North concert, also featuring Hawk Nelson and I Am They.

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Oh my goodness.

I can’t even begin to describe how absolutely amazing it was.

Talk about life-giving!

Tenth Avenue North is by far my favorite Christian group.  Their lyrics are so full of the character of God, but they delve into real life.  Some of their songs are full of pain and heartache.  They show how terribly hard life can be, and how we can throw ourselves on Him in the darkest of times.

They talk about grace and freedom in Christ.  They praise Him for how He sets His people free and creates new life.

Music can be so powerful.  And that night at that concert, the music and the musician’s heart for the Lord, so strongly encouraged me.  To live like I’ve been set free.  To live in freedom.  To live in boldness.  To live as if all the earth is holy ground.  To raise my hands to the Lord because even in the midst of utter darkness, He is good and He is true.

After leaving the concert, the lyrics were running through my head for a good 48 hours.  And I have definitely continued to listen to the albums since then.

How do you come down from a mountaintop experience?

I long for that kind of experience every day.  It would be incredible to have that boldness and joy every second of every day.

Sometimes I think that is why God gives us those experiences.  Sometimes life just absolutely sucks and concerts, or conferences, or a talk with a friend, or victories over sin, can be such a breath of fresh air.

When that “feeling” wears off, I pray that the messages will stay with me.  That I will remember the truths I have heard that night.  That I will remember the humility and love that I saw modeled in their words and actions.

I am so thankful that we were able to attend the concert.  But I pray that it will not be just one great night, or one great week.  I pray that I will live as a child of God who is redeemed and safe in His presence moment by moment.

Several months ago, I blogged about The Struggle, one of my absolute favorite songs by Tenth Avenue North.  I am pretty sure that there will be some more of their music featured on my blog here soon. 😉

Have you ever had an incredible spiritual experience?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

-Bonnie

The Portrayal of Christ

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God is dynamic.

He is not static.

He is alive.

He is vibrant.

He is living.

The Holy Spirit is dynamic.

He is not static.

He is alive.

He is vibrant.

He is living.

The Portrayal of Christ

Because of these truths, I believe that the Christian life should also be dynamic, vibrant, living.  It is fluid.  It is not stationery or stagnant.

So often I feel that Christians seem to feel they need to be in some sort of box.  Whether it is in adhering to certain standards or in deciding what church to attend, or how to parent.

In light of the fact that God is dynamic and not static, I don’t think that there are certain boxes that we ought to fit into.

The work that God is doing in my life is going to be unique.  My background, my personality, my strengths, and my weaknesses all come into play in what the Lord is working in and through me.  The work that God is doing in my husband’s life is unique.  And the work that God is doing in my son’s life is unique.  The same can be said for every person.

Yes, there are foundational truths and core doctrines that will not change.  The nature of God, for example.  What it means to be saved and how to be saved.

But beyond those core issues, I do not believe there is “the plan” where God will be most glorified universally.

One type of church might be what one person needs to grow and flourish while reaching out and serving others.  That same church might not be ideal for another believer, as his or her needs and gifts are different.

One parenting philosophy might be phenomenal for one family.  Or for one child within a family.  But it might not work for another child within that same family.

One standard of living might be just what is needed for one person to be blameless before God.  But that standard may not be required of another person.

And because the Holy Spirit is living and dynamic, these things could change day by day.  What is appropriate one day might not be the next day.  I believe this is one of those things that is meant when we are told to walk in the Spirit.  We don’t walk in the Spirit “ahead of time” by checking off everything on the list of how to walk in the Spirit….and therefore every day from then on we will be in the Spirit.  We walk in the Spirit by embracing that dynamic aspect of living, communing with Him moment by moment, and learning from Him continually.

When I have realized this dynamic and living aspect of God, I have felt so much more freedom and understanding.  We are not in boxes.  God is not in a box.  He is so much bigger than one small box.  He is doing remarkable things in remarkable ways and it might look quite different for different people.  That used to scare me.  But now it excites me.

-Bonnie

 

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