It’s About His Faith

pexels-photo-1.jpgYou are kind and good and just and I refuse to say anything other than Who You are.  I repeated that line laying on my face in a small apartment in Colorado, when it felt like the fabric of my being was being shredded within me and left to flail in hurricane force winds that had been unleashed in my life.  My nails digging deep into the fibers, gripping the carpet like my life depended on it and in some ways, it did.

No matter what.  I will not say anything other than Who You are.  You are kind and faithful and true and good and loving and present and You are Who You say You are.  No matter what happens or what I feel. I will not doubt You.

It was a dark night of the soul that lasted months.  But it was a bright noonday stroll in a garden eating ice cream compared to the last three years.  This post is about to get really real so if you are not into raw reality you might want to come back later.  OK, I warned you.

You see many of you read the first bit and were probably like, “wow, that’s some kind of amazing faith. Well done for not giving in to those pesky feelings, for not trusting those unstable emotions.”

But actually… that wasn’t faith at all.

It was denial, independence and fear masquerading as piety, trust and faith.  But it was as close a thing to faith that I had that the time and God in His kindness meets us right where we are.

I was so scared God wouldn’t be with my facades crumbling in honest pain so I forced myself to stand in dishonest faith.  I have told so many God would prefer our honest, real doubts lived in relationship with Him to a religious faith lived apart from relationship with Him. But, then, when I was faced with my own pain and doubt and anger and broken places, I just couldn’t let go of the form.  I had great theory.  But I didn’t know Him as well as I thought.

I patched up my broken places, pulled up my bootstraps and got back in the rhythm of being faithful.  I moved a world away to Africa.  I knew enough to know I was going not to fix anything but to learn and love and, well, be faithful.  So often we are admonished to be “faithful” as if our performance is some magic outworking of faith.  When Jesus wants us to be faith-full, filled with His faith that has literally nothing to do with us at all.

I look back on the last 10 years and see so much of God’s grace on everything.  The fact I even said yes wasn’t even my yes, it was an outworking of His yes and His grace in me.

I went through a season in India before Colorado where it was the first time I could recall I heard crickets when I prayed.  A time of His silence, where I was convinced He was kitting on the backside of the universe.  And then I went through that time above in Colorado, where some of what I put trust in started to be stripped away.  And then there were the last 3-4 years.

Years of loss and pain SO profound of so many things gone at once, I couldn’t even find the breath to say anything at all. Let alone pray.  Or anything else.  Was what I walked through God?  No.  It was the product of broken humanity, the fragmented cosmos, evil, betrayal and things we were never intended to have to walk through.  Does God redeem it, transform it, heal it, transfigure it?  Absolutely.  But His faithfulness to do so has had nothing to do with my faith because for the first time I can ever recall I began to wonder if I had any left.

But I found at the end of my faith, it isn’t about my faith at all.  It’s about His.  And He would rather meet me in my very real questions and doubts, in the raw mess of my broken places than He ever would watch me try and be strong and faithful in His name apart from Him.

So be encouraged.  You don’t have to “faith it” till you make it.  God is big enough to take your anger, and pain, and hurt, and doubts and questions without causing Him to change how He feels about you at all.  He simply wants to be with you right where you are right now.  And He loves you far too much to leave you stuck there.

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A Light That Will Never Go Out

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I had just bounced over barely there roads for almost 10 hours traversing rebel controlled areas to land in the city that would become my home in South Sudan for the next 7 years.  A very scared taxi cab driver dropped me off at a ministry base where I had secured a tukal for the evening.

John Light was one of the first people I met.  He sat with me around the campfire and told me about his people and how they were suffering.  And he reminded me of promises God had given me that I had never shared with anyone.  Landing so far from anything familiar, to be met with this beautiful smile and assurance I had indeed heard God’s heart correctly.  Then he asked me what he should do to reach his people.

I was so humbled. And I told him the only thing I knew to tell him was to listen to Jesus and do what Jesus was doing.  Talk to Holy Spirit and listen for his guidance.  A few days later we parted ways and I did not see him for months and months.  Almost a year later, his bright shining face walked into our compound and he told me we now had 5 churches in his home area.

John Light became one of my closest friends during my time in South Sudan.  He would always arrive on our compound exactly when I needed most to be reminded of God’s promises.  “Mama, I had a dream.  Mama, God spoke to me…”   I have missed him so much these last few years and was looking forward to the day we would meet again.

Saturday, I got word I am going to have to wait a little bit longer than I was expecting.  I don’t know the circumstances, but John beat me home to heaven and he is now face to face with the One he loved more than anything.  I will miss his laugh and his gentle encouragement, his passion for God’s heart and dreaming of what God could do with a group of people totally in love with Him.  Please pray for his family that is still here and for all that loved him and will miss him deeply.

I wish I had a way to record every single thing he ever said.  Because it all so profoundly reflected the heart of Jesus. I’m still amazed I got to count such a beautiful soul as one of my friends.

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John’s wife and children.
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With some of our leaders and friends
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He always would come with a heart eager to learn and ready to serve.
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Praying for our international director.

 

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This was one of the first times this little one smiled.  And she always smiled when John was around.

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He loved worship more than anything.
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A man with passion and vision for loving people to Jesus, even in the hardest places.

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John, I’m going to miss you friend.  More than I can say.  I look forward till the time we have eternity to spend celebrating Him together.

Why The Scariest Verse In the Bible Might Also Be My Favorite

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When I sat down to respond and offer my take on the movie The Shack and the uproar it’s causing in certain circles, I thought a few hundred folks might read at least part of what I had to say.  But a week later, 68,000 have read that article and it has been shared nearing 20,000 times on Facebook. I’m stunned.  It is the most read post I have ever written. I know parts of it may be controversial to some.  But it is simply my heart and perspective spilled on a page.

The conversations it continues to provoke has me learning harder on grace than I ever have.  I never have a problem with folks disagreeing with me.  Heck, I disagree with me 5, 10 years ago.  We are all on a journey.  Even those who of us don’t know we are. And there is amazing grace in each and every step.

I made a really some really strong statements in that post.  I want to unpack one of them and share a bit more of the why behind my emphatic writing.

I did not come to faith in the context of an evangelical church.  No one told me the four spiritual laws, had me repeat the sinners prayer or sign any dotted lines.  I never even heard of those things until years later.

I was read (and then read myself) children’s Bible stories at bedtime about a guy named Jesus.  He did amazingly cool things like walk on water.  (Come on, I know you have always wanted to try that… that’s serious superhero skills.) He welcomed kids and multiplied food and healed the sick.  He even faced off with death and won.

So when I was seven and facing death and yet another of 23 surgeries with some very scary potential outcomes, I cried out,  “Jesus, if You are really Who that books says You are, I want to know You.”

And instantly He was there in my little room.  I saw Him as clearly as I see my computer screen now.  He was real and present and met me right where I was.  I took one look into His eyes and fell in love.  Fear vanished in His presence.  He became my everything that night.

Jesus is the central reference for my faith. Not a church service or a particular doctrine or a certain prayer.  Not a list of rules.  Him.  Alone.  He became my life.  When I did start attending church, I pondered quite vocally when I was 11 why we did so many things not in the Bible and why the things of the Bible didn’t seem to be in the church.  Mic drop.

My faith wasn’t about being a Christian per say. I didn’t even know what one was at 7.  My faith was a love encounter and a real relationship with Jesus.  Jesus did not come to start a religion.  He came to bring us into relationship with the Father.  Which leads me to this post.

One of the scariest passages in the Bible:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from ME, you who practice lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23

Say what?  Those seem like really scary verses, right?  Especially for those of us who have given our lives to minister and pursue those things: prophesy, deliverance, freedom, healing, miracles.  But this passage has also become one of my favorites because of what it reveals about the heart of God.

I get that there isn’t a magic word to access the kingdom of heaven.  It has to be a real, walking it out, doing the will of the Father. What is the will of the Father?  Restored relationship.

But then comes the list of high achievers. These folks have signed the dotted line. Obviously.  They’ve prayed the prayer.  They prophesied in Jesus name.  Performed miracles.  Cast out demons.  They are card-carrying members of Jesus’ fan club.  They followed the rules. They’d be the rock stars of ministry, the sought-after speakers, the ones who’ve arrived, the ones we all want to be like.

And what does Jesus say to them?  “I never knew you.  I never experientially, deeply, intimately knew you. Depart, go away from Me, you who practice, minister with, trade in, labor in lawlessness and illegality.”

Performance, apart from relationship, is illegal in God’s kingdom.

In the church, we are often so focused on getting people to “know Jesus” and accept the four spiritual laws or pray the sinners prayer. But Jesus never said repeat after me, He said come follow me.

I’m beginning to wonder if we might have a few things backwards.  Jesus already knows everything about everything that concerns us.  So what does He mean by saying “I never knew you”?

From spending much time with Him in that passage, I get the sense He’s saying to the high achievers, “I don’t measure the quality of our relationship by the quality your performance.  I measure the quality of our relationship by the quality of our intimacy.  You may know a lot about Me. You may have done great things in My name. But you never let Me know you.”

Gulp. What if the things we think make us spiritual, really don’t?  What if we are working hard at the wrong things?

What if the whole point of everything is found only in one place… the place where we allow Jesus to know us?  Not from the place of His omniscience, but from the place of our permission. Where we say like David, “Search me and know me, God.”  Where we intentionally make ourselves vulnerable to being known in the context of an ongoing deepening relationship with Jesus.  Knowing it is there and there alone that the kingdom of heaven can be found.

My Response to the Movie The Shack

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I have a correction for the article 1,000 ‘Faith Leaders’ Endorse Blasphemous ‘Shack’ Film Based on Universalist Novel Depicting God as Woman.  It’s now a bold 1001.

I rearranged my schedule to go see The Shack today because it finishes it’s run tomorrow in our area.  I do have one strong objection to the film we should get out of the way before I continue.  No one told me I needed my own personal box of tissue.  And soggy sleeves are not nice movie going companions.

I read the book when it first came out and then, like now, I do not understand the violent reaction from some who call themselves Christian and who purport to (and I’m sure do indeed genuinely) love God.

I’m going to respond to this film, not just as a ministry leader with 20+ years of experience, but as a missionary and as an artist.  And then I’m going to answer the objections as the same.

As someone who has spent decades in front line missions, this film (and the book it is based on) is a brilliant parable as well as contextualization of the Gospel.  And the Gospel is indeed good news.  Really good news.  Straight up hilariously good and unreasonably joyful news. About a good God Who. Is. Love.  If we don’t get that part right, our foundation for relationship is off.  Plain and simple.

This movie was not an evangelistic presentation complete with the 4 spiritual laws and all neatly wrapped up with a please sign the dotted line and repeat after me the sinners prayer.   Jesus never said repeat after Me, He just said come follow Me.  (Which has often made me wonder if some of our best meant evangelistic efforts might actually be counterproductive in ways we don’t even comprehend. Another post for another day.)

Missions is about being light in darkness.  About finding the fingerprints of God in a culture and using them as bridge-builders to Him. To His Truth, Who is indeed a Person.  Named Jesus.  And He is the only One who can give an accurate context for understanding Scripture.  It is only through a living relationship with the Living Word that the written word can ever be correctly understood.  E. V. E. R.

This movie (and book) identified so many of the heartfelt objections and misunderstandings and points of pain that almost everyone I’ve ever shared my faith with have expressed in some manner to some degree.  And it presents Papa as the answer.  Jesus as the answer.  Holy Spirit as the answer.  Relationship with them as the answer.  Not a cultural religious institution.  And that has some in the cultural religious institution spitting nails and splitting hairs over it all.

I get it.  But I wonder if we’d recognize Jesus at all in some corners these days of the religion that bears His name.  If I may be so bold, this movie represented His personality better than pretty much every Christian film I have seen combined.  You see, many Christian films miss the point of being films and are actually thinly veiled sermons that dismantle whatever creative effectiveness their story line might have had.

Jesus told parables and let those with ears hear the meaning.  The people most upset at His methods were the religious leaders of His day.  Full stop.

One of the best books I have read in my Masters studies is a book called Overhearing the Gospel by Fred Craddock.  It has to do with how we share our faith in Jesus in a culture overly saturated with Christian notions that may or may not actually reflect the heart of God.  Where listeners are often inoculated to the actual power of the Gospel by overexposure to information about the Gospel.  Craddock’s suggested answer was a return to the use of story, to the parable that lets listeners hear and engage at the level they are ready and able.  This makes room for the Holy Spirit to draw them in ways they can respond to.  That is exactly what is powerful about The Shack.

Not to mention it is one of the first movies Jesus is not played by a fair-haired white guy.  THANK you.  I’ve only been waiting for this moment since He walked into my room when I was seven years old and introduced Himself.  Spoiler alert: He’s not white.

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I’m adding a more Pinterest friendly graphic for you who love Pinterest 😉

OK, now to tackle some of the objections so vociferously being broadcast.

  • The novel/movie portrays God as all-loving and He therefore never punishes sin: Um well, God IS Love (He who is destitute of love has never had any knowledge of God; because God is love. 1 John 4:8, Weymouth NT). So not seeing how that’s a problem.  And then the second bit, well it misses the point entirely.  The point in the movie/book was sin brings consequences/punishment of its own… and we are not the judge of sin. So… step away from the throne.
  • The novel/movie does away with the concept of Hell as punishment for sin: Dear beloved church, hell is not being refuted, it is the main character’s concept that God makes or allows evil things happen and punishes people by sending them to hell and therefore is not loving that is being refuted.  The point was the main character needed to understand the love he felt for his children was so great he would rather go to hell himself than condemn them.  It was one of the clearest presentations of the heart behind the Gospel in the whole movie.
  • God is portrayed as an African-American woman and an Asian woman, so the book/movie is saying God is female: Not even a little bit.  The movie is presenting God as presenting Himself in the way the main character could relate to because the main goal was relationship.  God loves us so much He reveals His heart in ways we can receive.  For the countless millions who do have father-issues because of abuse or unresolved pain, God meets them where they are at and loves them past it.  It is one reason why so many relate to Jesus and Holy Spirit with greater ease than the Father, at least initially. And in case we forget our Hebraic roots in the Old Testament, one of God’s names there is El-Shaddai.  Shaddai can be translated as “the many-breasted one” and there is much scholarship that looks at the different feminine attributes of God.  I’m not saying God is female, I’m saying He has attributes from both genders completely interwoven within Himself.  And for religious leaders saying it is unbiblical to show God as female just to “soften things up for those who have been hurt by men”, I wonder if they have ever truly met Him in the place of their own pain.  This is the same loving Father that leaves the 99 in search of the one lost lamb.
  • The book/movie is pointing to universalism because there are spirits from every nation depicted as present in heaven: This might make me the saddest of all as a missionary.  And it has the easiest answer. Read Revelations 5:9 (“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” ) and then flip over to Rev 7:9-ff.  Jesus died for every nation, tribe, tongue, race, people and culture. That’s not universalism folks, it’s the Gospel.
  • It’s universalistic because Jesus says religion is too much work, He wants all religions to be loved by Papa and He is not crazy about the title Christian: Well if the title Christian is supposed to imply we look and act like Him, I’d say we fall really short.  My take on this.  This isn’t a knock on the genuine church that does know and love Him and is committed to live in real relationship with Him and one another.  It is a knock on the institution that has co-opted His name but that doesn’t reflect His heart.  Religion is too much work. When Jesus paid the price to set us free to love Him and be loved by Him. This point is also speaking to the older brother who is lost in the house rather than the younger prodigal lost outside of it.  And Jesus does want all religions to know they are loved by Papa.  It is what He gave His life for.  He is not saying that all religions lead to knowing God, just that He wants all people from all religions to know Him (see the point just above this for reference.)
  • One author has retorted that only distorted images of God lie in The Shack, the God of true hope and healing can only be found in Scripture:  My suspicion is that the true image of the heart of God threatens and distorts the religious culture in some corners of the church.  The movie never claimed to be on par with Scripture in its authority.  But if it had been watched with the lens of Scripture as understood through the Living Word, rather than filtered through one or two religious interpretations of Scripture, His heartprint and Biblical references would be found all throughout the narrative.

The Shack is a parable.  Those who have ears, let them hear.  It just saddens my heart there are those who have committed their hearts and lives to One they seem to know so little.  You see the Gospel isn’t a doctrine.  The right doctrine alone will not get you saved. Doing great works in His name won’t get you saved.  There will be those who serve their whole lives who never let themselves be known by Him who will hear the words, “away from Me for I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23).  Practicing religion apart from real relationship is lawlessness at its deepest level.

The Gospel is a Person and it is a relationship with that Person.  Biblically, you cannot know something or someone without experience (look up the root meanings for yadah).  To imply we can know God through an intellectual doctrine apart from experience, that my friends is a blasphemy far greater than a parable that seeks to make His heart, goodness and love known to those who have ears and hearts able to receive it.

(Edited 03.14.17 to address some confusion about the title and to add a Pinterest friendly graphic.)

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The Peril of Stolen Words

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So.  I am feeling a little prickly tonight.  Y’all are OK with me being wide-open, gut-level real, right?  If you’re not, well… I’ll give you a moment to go read something else for the duration of this post.  😉

I came across some websites from folks I once knew during my days overseas.  I always default to thinking the best and giving people 529 chances to prove my intuition wrong.  I should have listened to my gut.  But I didn’t.  And I paid for it.  Big time.

I stumbled across the current websites a few days ago and I about fell over.  Right off my seat.  It felt like being sucker punched, the wind knocked right out of me.  There was a logo that looked very similar to one of mine. It wasn’t identical but too close for me to be comfortable with it.  Benefit of the doubt.  Loads of people like dandelions, right?

My stomach dropped several notches as I read through the content and updates and landed on a beliefs page speechless. I have a very distinct beliefs page that has been online since 2011 virtually unchanged (and I have proof of that).  Now with a very thin veneer of adaptation, my words stared back at me from a site I did not write.  And if that wasn’t bad enough.  I clicked over to a second site and words lifted verbatim, letter for letter, from my business site were living there.  I’m going to have to write knowing whatever I say may be “borrowed” without my permission. But at least I now have a little line on my business website that says:

Copyright © 2016-17 Michele Perry | All Rights Reserved. USING CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION IS STEALING & I know you are way too amazing to do that.

That’s direct enough, right?  But still kind.  I do want to be both.

The absolute worst part is.  Things like this happen all the time in the Body of Christ and no one bats an eyelash.  Those stolen from are encouraged to forgive and move on.  For the record, I have forgiven and I will move on.  But I am also taking necessary steps to protect myself from such integrity issues in the future.   And I’m calling this behavior for what it is:  Stealing.  Inspiration, recognizable influence from those we admire, using content with permission (seriously, just ask- I love to share) or quoting something with credit (quote away with appropriate attribution) is one thing.  Theft is quite another.

God calls it stealing too. It isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.  Jeremiah 23 talks about it at length.  Talk about consequences. Eeek.  No, thank you very much.

“For from the prophets of Jerusalem
Profaneness has gone out into all the land.’ ”
Thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you.
They make you worthless;
They speak a vision of their own heart,
Not from the mouth of the Lord…”

Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who steal My words from each other. Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the Lord, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the Lord.”

Jer 23:9-30 (selected.. read the whole section.  It is jaw-dropping.)

I’ve been doing a lot of chatting with Jesus over this because it gets my justice side all riled.  Integrity is such a huge thing to me.  Without it, you have nothing.  As a creative, I have spent decades of my life finding my own sound, honing my words with my life before they ever find their way to page or screen.  I’ve invested all I am into becoming more of who Jesus is asking me to be, into creating original content that brings Life and serves people well. Of diving deeper into His counsel, His heartbeat directly so what I carry is authentic rooted at the deepest levels of my being.  Jeremiah 23 has been a passage I’ve taken seriously since I was a teenager.

Maybe the saddest thing of all is that when we fall into the trap of comparing and using someone else’s words, we rob the world of our own voice, our own original, beautiful identity that God has created within each one of us to cultivate and share.  It’s there.  It really is.  No matter the pain and the loss and the grief, true beauty is always found in the ashes.  And no success is genuine if we succeed at being an echo of someone else’s sound, rather than becoming the full expression of our own. 

There is so much more, beloved.  So much more.

Thanks for listening.  Prickly bits and all.  And now I’m off to paint some cactus inspired wedding invitations… grateful I have something valuable enough anyone would want to copy it in the first place and praying for those who do.  It is a very fast way to wind up on my prayer list.  😉

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