Archives For Losing The Christian Economy

You know what I think the whole point on being a Christian is? Here’s what I believe: It’s about having genuine, loving relationships. That’s it. It’s so simple I completely missed it my whole Christian life. I fell into this crazy trap of replacing God’s desire for me, into pursuing my own religiously inspired desires for God. Let me explain.

God wanted me to have time, space and confidence to have loving relationships with others in my world, but, instead of taking this great opportunity, I spent all my time trying to save the world for God. That made me busy, really busy; so busy the last thing I had time for was building genuine, loving relationships. The irony of the whole thing is the only way people actually do come to know God is through interacting with genuine love. But I had no time for genuine love. What I had was polished and professional programs to offer. Whatever someone’s need, my church had a program to slot them right into.

Upon reflection, I realize most people felt like a hot potato when they came to my church. None of the leaders had any time to invest in a genuine relationship, but they knew where to send them. And so like cattle, people were moved into the right program.

Programs . . . what was I thinking? My hope was in programs!

What I’ve come to believe is God’s hope is not in programs, his hope is in love. Again, so simple. So simple I missed it. But I didn’t just miss it because it was simple. I missed it because I didn’t even know how to do it. You see, I had grown up in church programs. I understood how life worked in accordance with everything being programmed. I thought you made friends by being in the same programs. I thought loving relationships happened before and after programs. My life was programmed. Basically, I was programmed. Like a robot.

Jesus said he came to set us free, and when he sets us free, we’ll be free indeed. Free to love. Free to learn the value of love. Free to enjoy genuine, loving relationships. This was basically impossible for me to understand while I was a full time pastor, for my life was full of people, full of action, full of one program after the next. But all this ‘full’ revolved around making sure the programs keep on rolling. We were all busy together. Our bodies were close, but our hearts miles apart. It wasn’t until I left the professional pastoral life that I slowly came to understand love. And here is how it came to be.

God refused to re-program my life.

You see, when I left the programmed way of church life, I honestly expected God to bring new Christian brothers and sisters into my life. I expected a new form of Sunday meetings to flourish. I expected my Christian faith to function. I thought losing all the church programs would cause a great revival in my own spiritual life, and things would kick of in some new and wonderful way. So I waited.

Weeks passed . . . Nothing.
Months passed . . . Nothing.
A year passed . . . Nothing!

At this point, I wondered what was taking God so long to organize things for me. One evening, completely frustrated I decided to talk with God about it. And his response to me shocked me. Here is what I feel he spoke into my heart.

“I’m not going to program your life. You have to desire your life. You have to desire to love.”

This was so bizarre it took me days to even figure out what God meant. Then it struck me. It wasn’t the church programs that was the problem, it was my mindset. My mind was programmed. My mind was waiting for someone to program things for it. Even though I had left the institutional church, I still had an institutional mindset. I desired for my Christian life to work. I was still thinking in regards to ticking boxes. I wanted to tick the box that said I had a good worship life. I wanted to tick the box that said I had a weekly ‘fellowship’ time. I wanted to tick the box that said I was doing things right, like a Christian should be living. What God showed me was my Christian faith wasn’t about ticking boxes, it was about living a life of love.

But did I desire to love? Man o man, that was a hard question to answer honestly.

What I realized after this whole experience was I didn’t even know how to love others. I knew how to build programs with others. I knew how to stand next to someone, but focus on something else. But I never really learned the value in just enjoying other individuals simply for who they were. No agendas. Nothing to build. Nothing to keep them accountable to. Nothing to ask of them. Nothing to challenge them with. Nothing but friendship. Nothing but a genuine, loving relationship. This I found not only hard, but impossible to do. I literally had to become like a little child and take baby steps to learn this basic human function.

This to me is the greatest tragedy of building church communities around programs. The community themselves get so used to everything being set up for them, they never learn the basic human function of seeking out and enjoying genuine friendships. When I left church, nobody wanted to still spend time with me. Why? Because they couldn’t do it before or after a church program. They knew I had no interest in returning, and so I was a lost cause. Is this what genuine friendships look like? Is this how they function?

But you know what, I’m not a lost cause. Far from it. I know this. And I know it about others too. I no longer think in programs. No more in or out. No more hidden agendas. No more superior attitudes. I see everyone as an equal. I seek to learn from others all the time. I’m still learning how to have genuine, loving relationships. Although I was frustrated for a long time, I’m now so glad God didn’t re-program my life. I’m glad he let me discover the real value of life is to value and actively pursue and enjoy genuine, loving friendships.

I no longer spend my life pursuing my religious desires for God. I now spend my time pursuing God’s desire for me. To love. To have genuine, loving relationships. To be free.

Yes, I’ve come to believe that to love freely, without an agenda or conditions, is to be free indeed.

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Visionary church leaders are not bad guys, they are just obsessed with their vision. Unless you’ve been in the position of leading and rallying a large group of people around a grand vision, it’s hard to understand the pressure involved in ensuring it is always moving forward. A vision requires momentum. Always momentum. And this momentum comes not by rest, but by work – and lots of it.

My grand vision had so much machinery attached to it, and so much hype, that if it was not constantly moving forward, then it was moving backwards. This, I can assure you, was a terrifying possibility for me, for if my vision went backwards, the hype would lose its shine, the people would see it wasn’t working, and then what? They might look for a better vision. They might look for a better leader. They might—

No, there was no room for ‘they might’ . . . it needed to remain ‘I know’. If I didn’t remain in control, the whole thing was in danger of falling in on itself. So I was always determined to present myself as the leader who knew. Yes, I knew everything. I knew what God wanted, I knew what God didn’t want, and I knew my vision was God’s will. Anything that went against my vision was not of God. Even, as I realize upon reflection, if it was God himself who was against it.

Why was this bad? Because often God is not interested in momentum. Often he wants the opposite. He wants his children to stop, to rest, to relax in his presence. He wants his children to know they don’t have to slave for him, working tirelessly. The voice of God, I now realize, was often going against my vision, calling my church members to slow down, to stop with all the tireless ministry, to listen to his calm voice calling them into rest.

Here is the biggest problem with trying to lead a church community with a grand vision: If any voice, even the voice of the Spirit, endangers the forward momentum of that vision, those voices are treated like an enemy. I remember one of my main reoccurring sermons was called, in one variation or another: “Don’t give up!” It when something like this:

“ . . . the voice of the enemy, the voice of the world, the voice of your flesh, will be trying to get you to give up, to stop with your ministry, to stop attending so many church services, to stop giving to the work we are doing here . . . but when you hear that voice, you say ‘get behind me! I will continue, for I have faith, and will continue to work for the glory of God’. . .”

Sounds pretty powerful, right. I was a great speaker, so you can imagine that it even got the crowd quite worked up . . . so what is the problem? The problem is, without realizing, I most likely had preached that message against the leading of the Holy Spirit.

How many times was God comforting someone in my church, telling them to let go of all their ministry service and come back to a quiet place with him to be refreshed with his Father’s love . . . only for me to say that God would never says that. Only to condemn them for daring to believe God would say anything opposed to the momentum of my vision. Sad. So sad. What God said to Pharaoh in Egypt, rang true for me too:

“Let my people go!”

But for the longest time, like Pharaoh, I refused. Like Pharaoh, there was just too much to do, too much to build, too much to accomplish. And to do all that, I needed workers.

So am I against vision for the church community? No, I’m not. But if we want to come around a vision, I believe it has to be the vision of Christ’s finished work, it has to be a vision of rest in him. I think if we want a vision, it needs to be a decentralized vision, not a single man’s vision, that only the Holy Spirit is in control of leading. I think it can work if the vision revolves around the desire to love, for love is something Scripture says we can build each other up in. And that to me is the only thing really worth building.

From time to time well-meaning Christian brothers and sisters hear my story, and feel sorry for me. They think I was just unlucky in my legalistic church experience, and go on to inform me that they are part of a Bible based church – ah yes, Bible based…

I normally smile, and politely decline their invitation to join one of their services. You see, this was exactly what I would have said when I was still a senior pastor. My church was a “Bible based church” and I said this with great satisfaction. Upon reflection I realise I was absolutely right – for all the wrong reasons.

My church was a building where everyone would come to once a week to worship God – just like the Temple in the Bible.

I encouraged everyone it was God’s will that they bring their tithe to this building – just like the Temple in the Bible.

I organised musical worship, that placed God high up in heaven and the rest of us far away on earth – we were always ‘reaching up to him’ – just like the Temple in the Bible.

Ah yes, we were certainly Bible based – that was the problem, and it was a big problem. It pulled everyone, inch by inch, into the Old Covenant mentality.

What a church really should be is gospel based, not Bible based. Not everything that is in the Bible is the gospel. Most of the Bible is the Old Covenant, and we, as Christians, are not part of that covenant. When we fail to understand that, we cause a great deal of harm to our church community. But, well, you know the tithe is part of the Old Covenant, and that one law is probably responsible for more pastors wanting to keep things ‘Bible based’ than allowing the community to be ‘gospel based’ than any other. I understand why. You need a lot of money to keep a Temple running… but again, should we even have a Temple-like-building to begin with?

Jesus did describe what the Church looks like, did you know that? He talked about the community who were born-again, that of course being a reference to the body of Christ, the Church. How did he describe the Church then? He compared it to the wind. He said:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

This is what I realised was my major mistake. My church community was meant to resemble the wind, but instead I worked hard (and made others work even harder) to make the church resemble the Temple. This to me now is shocking, but back then I honestly didn’t see a problem with it. I though it was commendable even! The Church was meant to seem invisible, and yet I was actively spending huge amounts of money on publicity and advertisements, doing everything in my power to make my church known, famous, “here we are: we are the church, look at us!!”

I don’t blame other pastors for doing the same things I did. I understand it’s not done with a false motive. It’s done with zeal, with passion – but, I also believe it’s done with a wrong understanding. Like the Apostle Paul said,

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Romans 10:2

So, how can we as a church community move away from the Old Covenant ‘Temple’ model and start living int the New Covenant ‘Wind’ model of church life? … well, that’s something I’m still trying to figure out myself. It’s a walk of faith, and I’m just taking it one step at a time.

Freedom. What is it? Really, what does it mean to be free? I am free, but strangely enough it doesn’t feel anything like I imagined it should, at least according to my religious ideals anyway. Freedom isn’t comfortable. To be honest, often it isn’t even particularly enjoyable. In fact, I think my freedom is one of the reasons for my reoccurring sadness. Freedom, you see, does more than enlighten you to the truth within you; it also awakens you to the lies all around you.

The truth within is pure joy. To know my savior in such a deeper, more personal way. To see Christ in me as he truly is, my hope of glory. To experience a relationship with the Divine, void of my own self-focused fears and empty of condemnation. The truth within is incredibly liberating. It’s what freedom should be, and it is where my hope truly is located. But, like I said, I’ve realized that freedom is not just about seeing the glory within, but also facing the tragedy outside too.

I spent most of my life with my head buried deep in my own ministry. A slave to my religion without even realizing it. I had tunnel vision for so long that I truly believed that was the full vision of life; however, in reality I saw nothing clearly. Neither my hope within, not the lies surrounding me. I was in a blur, and yet my religious worldview seemed clear. When someone tried to reveal either a truth or a lie that would destabilize my own masked idea of reality, I simply ignored it. Just like that. As if I heard nothing. Gone. Like magic.

Denial, I’ve come to realize upon my reflections, is a religious man’s best friend. I know, it was a close companion of mine for most of my life. And here is where freedom enters. This is what freedom did: It allowed me to stop denying things that conflicted with my own religious zeal and ideology.

Freedom allowed me to start asking questions. Freedom allowed me permission to start doubting dogma and doctrines I’d never dared question before. Freedom gave me the courage to face the lies in my own life, in my church and in my profession as a pastor. Not to mention the lies I’d never dreamed possible taking place in the world around me.

So why does my freedom make me uncomfortable? Why does my freedom sometimes also plunge me into sadness? It’s because not everyone is free. I see so many pastors and church leaders, so many churchgoers too, who are still hiding behind the safety of a religious mask. I don’t say that callously. Please, believe me when I say I hold no judgement in my heart towards anyone. In fact, if I could be bitter it would be much easier, but then I would only be putting on another mask. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to judge anyone, for it was through the realisation that I no longer wanted to judge others that I discovered I am free.

I realised I’m free, because I no longer desire, or feel it is my right, to judge others, nor do I judge myself. I want the best for everyone. I believe the best about everyone. I understand we all have weaknesses. I understand we all need to be reassured that we are loved. I accept that I am weak and in need of grace, and I only want grace to be poured out upon others. I am free from the mask. I’m free from being a hypocrite. I’m unmasked, honest, naked, and, more than ever, dependent upon God for every step I now take.

Freedom doesn’t always feel as good as it did living in a religious delusion, but I wouldn’t trade it in, and I’m not turning back now. Egypt can keep their onions. I’m sticking with God’s assurance that I’m going to make it to the promise land. Although it may not feel more comfortable, I’m sticking to the journey with my great God. Call me a fool if you must, but I believe it’s better to be free in the desert than a slave in Egypt.

I think the Israelites remembered Egypt as a bit of a religious Disneyland, don’t you? A place where there was lots of color. Lots of action. A place where they were part of something bigger than themselves. Where their leader had a grand vision, a ‘god sized’ vision. A vision to build. I picture it all somehow like my previous vision casting moments to my congregation, I bet there was a similar mantra preached by the leadership all through Egypt. “Build. Build. Build!”

What is incredible is I don’t think they even realized they were actually slaves, at least I don’t get that impression when I read their comments as they tracked through the desert. Before my own religious theme park delusion, downfall, and reflections, I never really understood what was happening in the desert. Why did they keep going on about all the onions and garlic they ate in Egypt? They give us the impression it was a cake walk in there. The problem with their testimony, or course, is that we know it wasn’t. They were slaves. They were not treated well. They were used like batteries to build Pharaoh’s grand vision. So what was going on? I tend to think the reason for all the moaning and longing for Egypt once more was mainly due to the fact they found their whole faith walk in the desert, well – boring. So boring, perhaps, that their minds started drawing them back into their religious fantasy of glorified Egypt. They dismissed the memory that they were actually slaves there, and longed for the action it gave their religious senses once more.

‘Let’s pick a leader and go back to Egypt’

I don’t blame them, after all, who wants to end up in a desert? Not me. But it seems if you want to be led by the Spirit. If you want more than religion. If you want the promise of truth, a truth that will set you free, then you have to journey through a dry and lonely place to get there.

The entire New Covenant is about being led by the Spirit, but there is also a pull to be led by religion, isn’t there? But the real question is, will we trade it in? We all say no! But it’s harder to resist the temptation than we’d like to admit. In fact, its something the church, for most of its 2,000 year history, has failed at.

Jesus came to lead us out of religion, but instead of following him we stayed where we were and built a new religion in his name.

It seems we’re in a similar position as the Israelites were as they journeyed to the promise land. We’ve also had our share of ‘super apostles’ who, generation after generation, found the idea of loving relationships rather dull and so time after time introduced a great ‘vision’ to bring the community back under the leadership of a man, instead of the Spirit, and back into the standard framework of religion. It’s not just these ambitious leaders who are causing harm, I sometimes wonder how the church ever expect be free when there is a never-ending line of believers calling out:

‘Let’s pick a leader and go back to Egypt’

And back we go for another merry-go-round. I understand. I really do. The theme park version of my faith seemed much more action packed then my journey through the desert. Regardless, I don’t want to go back. I assure you, I don’t want this desert experience either. But, if I have to walk this journey to get to the promise, then I’m going to keep walking through the sand to get there.

As a pastor, I always hated the idea of the desert, because I associated it with disobedience. Things have changed in my thinking about it these days – now that I’m in it. This may make some people choke, but I’ve actually come to discover the spiritual value of being in ‘the desert’. I’ve realized it has given me something I never had in my religious, busy every minute, Disneyland.

Time.

It gives me time to think. No more leadership training. No more vision casting. No more building fund meetings. No more distractions. No more conferences. No more services. No more endless programs. No more full schedules. The best part about the desert is there is nothing here. Just time with God. Time to think. Time to reflect. Time to ask questions. Time to wait. Time to see the flaws in my previous theological beliefs. Time to be more honest to myself. Time to change.

Time to discover my faith walk was never meant to work tirelessly around the mantra build, build, build! I’m called to rest in a different reality. The reality of love, love, love.

To be famous for God is a common, almost universal, pastoral pursuit. I’m talking about the top dogs, the senior pastors on the hunt for their mega-church, the visionaries. That was me. I know my own type well enough.

I started out with the noblest intentions, but somewhere along the way something happened. The landscape changed. Not around me, but in my thinking. In my understanding of who God was, who I was, and what the whole point of the church community was. When I look back now, I feel as if I was living in a warped pastoral franchise of Disneyland. A place where my wildest religious dreams could come true. Where magical events were an everyday occurrence. A world where I was doing something great. Making God Famous – and myself a little famous too.

There I was, week in and week out, on stage in the center of my religious Disneyland. The one and only: Pastor Mickey Mouse.

When I reflect on those early day, I picture myself as a theme-park employee clocking on for his shift, feeling lousy and wanting to throw the whole gig in. However, like a true professional, quickly getting into character, suiting up in my costume and bouncing onto the stage to the roar of the crowd. After the show I would walk around in character and shake a few hands, wave a little. Big smiles, big smiles.

In the beginning I knew it wasn’t real. I knew that wasn’t who I was, but at some point I stopped believing I was putting on a show and started believing the whole thing was real. I was no longer faking anything. It was no longer a costume. The fantasy had become my reality… I was Pastor Mickey Mouse.

The saddest part about this was that my family at home knew I wasn’t the great religious icon I was creating myself to be. They had a good reason not to believe it too. They lived with me. Yet, after everything I put them through, they still love me. That alone is enough for me to be forever thankful for God’s grace. I’m still here. My wife still loves me. My kids still talk to me. I woke up from my religious fantasy losing my income and my pride, but by the grace of God I kept hold of the one thing that matters most. My family.

I want to be honest and real. I’ve discovered that means accepting I’m not living in Peter Pan’s Nevernever land. My life, from a miraculous perspective, is quite boring now that my faith is no longer played out in a religious theme park. The miraculous is not happening all around me. The dead are not being raised in my living room. The crippled are not being healed by my shadow. I would love to see these things happen, but I’m not going to create a fantasy in my mind to convince myself they’re happening when they’re not. I want to be honest. I want to know the truth. I want to see where this journey takes me.

So here I am. No more costumes. No more audience. No more standing ovations. That’s O.K. Maybe now, in the quietness, in this place where I no longer have a religious image to live up to and no religious benefits to lose, I might have a real shot of learning what this whole walk of faith is really about.

Losing The Christian Economy

This is part 4 of ‘Losing The Christian Economy: Confessions Of An Ex-SuperPastor’: Read from the beginning here.


The heart. My heart. It is still a mystery to me, but I’m thankful I’m understanding it more and more. Despite my overly zealous pastoral confessions and the open omission of my guilt, Kimmy insists I never had a hard heart. While I say I trampled over the hearts of many in order to protect my religious ideology and vision, she says I was just a man burdened by an image I felt obligated to carry; burdened by the weight of tradition handed to me. She tells me I’ve always had a soft heart, it’s just that it is much healthier now, and that’s why it feels different. Whole. More alive.

My wife understands more than I do about God. For most of our marriage I considered myself spiritually superior because of my Bible knowledge. I spent my life trusting in God’s book, when I should have learned from her, I should have joined her in trusting in God’s heart. I should have followed his Spirit; instead, I followed my preferred interpretation of the Bible, and demanded everyone else follow that interpretation as well.

My hope was in my three point sermons; Kimmy’s hope has always been in the Christ in her heart. I’ve joined her, but it was a difficult transition to make.

So was my heart hard like I remember, or simply overwhelmed with expectations and false traditions as Kimmy believes? While my mind is inclined to believe my version, the Spirit within draws me to believe Kimmy. Not because it’s easier on me. It’s because I trust Kimmy’s understanding of God’s heart and his gracious ways more than I do my own. She is so full of grace, how could I doubt her? God pours out his love through her, and God knows I need his grace.



I understand my guilt. I know my past mistakes. I’ve sought to right the people I wronged. I’ve taken responsibility for my actions, but only because Kimmy helped lift the lie that would have otherwise crushed me. The lie that suggested that the damage I caused while in the institutional church was the DNA of who I am, instead of realising it was a cloak that covered me during that time, but it wasn’t my skin. It wasn’t my inner man. She was the one who helped me realise that cloak has now been removed, and my true DNA is still intact. I’m still made in the image of Love. I’m still a son of the Divine. Kimmy helped me understand the reality of truth. What a valuable lesson worth learning.

For so long I used the word ‘truth’ like a weapon, ready to attack anyone who tried to be too gracious or too liberal in their beliefs about God. I thought truth was defined by God’s discipline, anger and wrath. I don’t do that anymore. I’d rather let truth be what it is. You see, God is the Truth, and truth, like God, makes us feel loved; truth thinks we’re wonderful, even when we feel we should be condemned. Truth carries us when we think we should be left behind. Truth is love. Truth is grace. Truth led me to understand what it means for mercy to triumph over judgment.

I realise what Kimmy says is the truth, because God is the truth, and God takes delight in covering over our weaknesses and failings with his grace. God doesn’t keep track of our wrongs. God is always patient and always believes the best about me. So here I am, a man who has made a great deal of mistakes, learning how to walk with confidence despite them. I’m a son. I’m a brother. I’m a believer in the truth.

After all this time, I’m free.

New updates to the story will be posted each Monday. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below or on the story’s facebook page. You can read the story from the beginning here.

confessions-week 3
This is part 3 of ‘Losing The Christian Economy: Confessions Of An Ex-SuperPastor’: Read from the beginning here.
My tears are beautiful.They’re beautiful because they are connected to my heart, and when I cry I realise my heart is alive, with me on my journey. I don’t desire tragedy. I take no interest in any kind of pain. I hope, like all of us, that misfortune passes by my household. However, if it does arrive upon my doorstep, I’m glad I’ll have my tears to accompany me. I’m glad my heart has been softened by the love of God enough to do more than acknowledge the facts; it can feel the situation.

Throughout the years of my successful accession to my glorified position as a Senior Pastor, I lost sight of the necessity of a soft heart. In fact, I thought having a hard heart was actually a strength. Of course I never would have used the word ‘hard’ to describe my heart. I would word it more along the lines of ‘well protected,’ but upon reflection I can confess that I believed a hard heart, with the ability to discard people at a moment’s notice, was of great value to my ministry and leadership position. People were around my life constantly, but they weren’t in my heart. My heart was the exclusive sanctuary of something that had to be protected at all costs: my ministry vision

How sad a man I truly was. It was a sadness my wife knew about for years, but the hardness of my own heart stopped me from realizing it for so long. I’m an emotional man these days. I’m not afraid to let people see my weaknesses, my challenges, my questions – my sadness. I’m also not afraid to be filled with joy and outrageous hope.

I’m a rollercoaster, big highs and big lows, but I’m happy because I’m finally being honest to myself. Back in my days as a career clergy man I was more like the never-changing church mascot. Always the same. Always well-kept. Always smiling. Always inspiring. Just like my vision, I was perfect as much as I was lifeless. All that time I held my vision tightly, nursing it, protecting it, and allowing the walls of my heart to turn into a concrete fortress, all entry points securely locked in order to protect the vision inside. For so long, my great ministry vision was the only thing I cared deeply for. That’s why I was so lonely, because no matter how much I loved my ministry vision, it couldn’t love me back.



What I’ve come to realize while journeying down this honest road is that my heart wasn’t designed to hold lifeless things; it was designed by its Creator to hold other hearts. God has given me the blessed opportunity to collect the hearts of others around me, as many as I’m willing to receive, and store them in my own heart. I’ve learned that my heart is a place of refuge. It is designed to keep its doors open. Trying to protect my own ministry vision caused my heart to become so hard and calloused it no longer functioned as God intended it to. It wasn’t until I allowed my relationships with other people to make their home in my heart that I began to realize what it meant to have a soft heart that was fully alive. It was only then I could cry for others, and only then did I develop friendships that allowed others to cry for me.

My tears are beautiful, because no matter how sad the situation that caused them may be, they remind me my heart is soft enough to feel. To care. To love.

New updates to the story will be posted each Monday. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below or on the story’s facebook page. You can read the story from the beginning here.

Confessions - Week 2
This is part 2: You can read the story from the beginning here.
Three years ago my religious world, with all its shaky foundations, came crumbling down. It was my my wife who saved me. In the midst of the mess, Kimberly, Kimmy to me, helped me understand something about Jesus I never knew, it was probably the first time I let her. You see, up till that point in our marriage, I had stormed ahead as the valiant leader, the great spiritual guru of the family, believing I was the one God trusted. I was the one with the mantle, a heavenly seal upon my life, called to obtain greatness. And who was she? She was there to support my cause, an extra pair of shoulders to heap my burdens upon when I was too busy to deal with them myself.

Yes, you probably just figured it out – I was a complete moron. It’s true, I was blind to my own foolishness, and, as it turns out, blind to my wife’s wisdom, for she clearly knew God far more than I ever gave her credit for. While I had spent my time trying to figure out God’s battle plan, she had spent hers understanding God’s heart. Thank goodness she did, it was the only thing powerful enough to bring me back from ruin. I still remember our conversation. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how her words floated into my heart as light as feather, and broke the yoke of false beliefs with all the strength of heaven.

I had left my pastoral position five months earlier and since that time, to my great frustration, nothing had turned out like I had assumed it should. We hadn’t spoken about my real feeling regarding the situation since my dismissal. I had spend months locked away in my study trying desperately to create a new plan, to find a way forward, but it was all to no avail. I started to give up, to the point where I did little more than function. Kimmy tried to help, but I was keeping her at a distance, until I was too weak to do even that. It was late one evening and I was curled up on the couch. Lost. Broken. Unable to make sense of anything. She walked over and sat next to me and began slowly stroking my hair, and, after an eternity of silence, spoke in her soft, fragile voice.

“Joel, don’t let yourself drown in pity and don’t for a second believe God has left you. He hasn’t. He never will. Your religious dreams may have been burned up, but your identity is not lost. You have an identity far greater than the man with the big church vision. That’s not who you are. That’s never been who you are.”

I closed my eyes, struggling to even talk. I wanted to tell her to take her words back. I wanted to declare that that was my identity. That I was someone important, that I had a vision to prove it. But I was weak, and also caught off guard at her words, for we never really talked about spiritual matters. I was always ‘strong enough’ to deal with these kind of things alone. Yes, strong enough to lock everyone out. Strong enough to live guided by my vision instead of my heart. Strong? What a joke. No, I was always weak, but now, for the first time, I realised it. I couldn’t hide behind my alpha male talents any longer. I had nothing.



There really is something divine about weakness. It has a power I had never given it credit for. I always thought of it as a curse, but it was the only reason I opened up to my wife. It was only through weakness I finally realised just how blessed I am. It was my weakness that allowed God’s grace to reveal itself. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m no longer disappointed or embarrassed about my weaknesses and limitation, and why I don’t judge anyone else for having them either. But none of that really made sense to me at the time, my attention was on her words ringing in my ears about my identity. I remember closing my eyes, thinking about what she said, to weak to do anything but be honest.

“Who am I without my vision?” I asked her, not waiting for an answer before throwing another question into the air.

“What will people think of me now? What value do I have in God’s plan now? I’m useless.”

That was all I could muster, and silence fell between us once more. My words depressed me, but they did more to her – they hurt her. They didn’t seem that potent to me, so why did they hurt her? I realise now it was because she knew just how wrong I was. Looking out the window, gazing up at the stars, she spoke once more, with more determination in her speech.

“You know, you don’t understand how God views you, that’s your real problem. You’re wrong if you think you’re useless to God now. You’re more than you believe, so much more,” There was a pause – and then she dropped the bombshell: “You need to stop believing that filthy lie! You’re not just a pawn in his game like you think.”

My heart stopped. How did she know? My secret I’d never so much as whispered to a living soul, but somehow she knew, and I realised in that moment that she’d always known. She had always seen the lie I was believing, I was the blind one. I’d never allowed her voice to find a place of value in my spiritual life and only now, in my weakness, could she help me see the heart of God.

My secret was simple: I believed God considered me expendable. I believed I was a pawn, being maneuvered to gain ground for him; a soldier whose worth was in my strength to fight, and to rally others to fight. I viewed my faith through the eyes of a soldier, and so, like any soldier at war, I hardened my heart in order to deal with the tragedy such a mindset creates.

Expendable. That’s why I felt useless, because I had failed in my mission. That was what I believed. That was the lie my wife saved me from. She revealed to me the true motivation of God is love. That I was loved as a son, not employed as a soldier. Her words may seem simple, but they were enough to reach into the depths of my soul and take the hand of my inner child, suppressed for so long, and draw him back to the surface of faith. It was enough to soften my heart once more.

These were her exact words, etched forever in my mind. I even remember the smell of her breath and the comfort of her touch as she spoke:

“I want to tell you the truth and I want you to allow these words to sink into your heart. The truth is you’re loved more than anyone could ever articulate. More than your best friend could ever understand. More than I, the very closest person to your heart, could ever replicate. You see darling, the One who loves you is the source of all life. You’re more valuable to God than all the stars in the sky; without you it’s as if they don’t shine. Without you, everything loses its value. But he’s got you. He’s holding you in the palm of his hand, like a pearl worth more than all he owns, he’s holds you tightly. You’re the reason he makes the world shine with warmth. You’re the one he died for; you’re the one he’d do it all again for. As hard as it is to believe, you’re his beloved child; you’re the one who motivates God to win – and he will win. For you, for me – for all of us. Don’t give up, keep walking, Love will find a way.”

Her words caused me to burst into tears, the reality of them so gentle and yet so powerful. I knew they weren’t just something said to encourage me. She believed every one of them. They were powerful because they were the truth. This was the God she belonged to, the God I belonged to, and in that moment I surrendered. I gave up being a soldier for God, and allowed myself to be a son.

That was the day heaven danced for me.

(Keep reading here.)New updates to the story will be posted each Monday. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or on the story’s facebook page. You can read the story from the beginning here.

Introduction

My world is falling apart, one question at a time. I am a shadow of the man I once was, but, somehow, I stand taller at the same time. My strength fails me. My prayers are no longer given to my Maker upon my knees, but upon my pillow, exhausted by a sorrow I don’t understand. I am weak. This is no longer a theological statement I use as some kind of mantra. This is my life. I understand now just how true it is. I fail. I lose. I feel hopeless even with all the knowledge of salvation and a great God within me. I’m weak, but I am also honest, and it is honesty that keeps me moving.

While I can not produce the fruit of the Spirit as evidence of my walk with God, and I struggle as to why God has not shared his joy with me for so long, I do take comfort in the way I resemble the DNA of the Divine. For God defines himself as the truth, and the truth is all I have left to identify with. I’m more honest than I’ve ever been, and that makes me stand, despite all the weaknesses that weigh me down, taller than my former self.

Questions are dangerous. Far more dangerous than anyone realises. They are double-edged, cutting both ways. If you ask a question, you not only have to accept the truth you find through them, but also confront the lies you have believed for so long. I was never afraid of discovering the truth, but I now realise how frightening it is to face the lies I’ve been deceived by. Here I am, a man who spent his whole life being supported by people to be a pastor, only to question myself out of a job. Out of an identity that held me up for so long. Now I walk a road with no signposts, only a lamp upon my feet. Funny how I never really noticed that lamp before now. I guess now that all else has been removed, it’s the only thing my eyes yearn for. So here I walk, worn out by religion, a ex-pastor on a spiritual journey, searching for grace.



Honesty is a revolution to the soul. It has allowed me to discover my true self, the person God created me to be. I don’t think God cares much for masks, do you? I spent so long afraid of taking mine off, convincing myself God’s children were to be, well, the same – same thoughts, same actions and same vocabulary. Turns out God made me unique for a reason. I’ve figured out that God likes unique things and I don’t have to try to fit a common mold. I don’t have to wear a mask. I don’t have to use the same words, believe the same things, accept the same theology. It’s a shame more of God’s kids don’t also enjoy my company, in all my uniqueness. They preferred me in my mask, but my mask has been abandoned, and most of my spiritual brothers and sisters have disowned me because of it.

The arena of honesty is completely different to the religious arena I spent so long in. All the rules have changed. In the religious arena, the obsession with being ‘right’ is the battle cry, judging others the sword, and inclusion the reward. I was a valiant fighter in the arena of religion. A champion admired by all who surrounded me, cheering me forward as they too took up their swords. And now they shake their heads at me. ‘Oh, how the mighty has fallen’ they think. In their minds I have betrayed them. They don’t understand my journey. They don’t resonate with the rules of fighting in the arena of honesty. In this arena I have no need or desire to be ‘right’, I condemn no one; in fact, I find such a weapon repulsive to my spirit. And about the reward of inclusion, well, as I stated, most of my sibling in Christ have rejected me. So here I stand, expelled from the favours of religion, an outsider.

Truth, I have discovered, is an outsider. If you want it, you’ll never be allowed to remain in the circles of main stream acceptance; like Jesus, truth isn’t accepted in religious circles. I tried to make it work, to find a middle ground, we all do. But there came a point when I simply stopped understanding the religious mind. It is a strange thing, because that was my mind for so long, but I can’t sympathise with it any longer; I want no part of it. And I am not alone. I’ve become part of a band of rebels who have found each other along the path of honesty. We’re not considered rebels because we are looking for a fight; we are rebels because we openly reject the cry of religion, demanding we return to captivity.

New updates to the story will be posted each Monday. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or on the story’s facebook page. You can continue reading part 2 here