I wrote this piece almost a year ago. I was in a church where the pastor began to rail on people with law. By rail I mean scream at them from the pulpit. I even sent the sermon to friends of mine to be sure I wasn’t over reacting to the situation. They couldn’t stomach listening to the thing in it’s entirety. We tried to loving confront the pastor on this. It resulted in a lot of smoke screening, accusing us of not being very gracious, and finally, in manipulating me into taking down this post. This post does not name him nor would any one reading it have known that it was him who had just thrown me in a ditch with his preaching.
He was successful in shutting me down by telling me that my writing is arrogant, that I need to know my own strength. I listen to what it is that people say to me when they give me a criticism. I’m not afraid of hearing that I’m wrong. Looking back now, what I think he meant is that I am a strong writer who knows how to communicate exactly what pisses her off- and I’m good at nailing down exactly what the issues are. Also, I am a woman who is unafraid. All of those things scared the shit out of him and he wanted to put me in my place. He saw me as a threat when all I wanted to do was say, “bro, you’re hurting people and therefore hurting your ability to shepherd them.”
Bottom line: This isn’t even my best writing. I read it now and think, “meh.” But that’s not the point. The point is that I was communicating something. Something very true about the American Evangelical Church. I let a man’s insecurities silence my voice. I will never do it again. I don’t care who you are or how many credentials you have. I don’t care that you have balls– if you are trying to shut me up you’ve already uncovered the fact that my balls are bigger than yours and you’re pissed because I’m saying what you don’t have the guts to say. Don’t let anyone shut you up. Say what you need to say. Don’t let them intimidate you — you have a right to speak up.
…. Oh. He also said my post was void of the gospel entirely. I’m guessing that means he doesn’t know how to recognize it when he hears it. You tell me. (Pardon me, that was arrogant.)
I’m so exhausted. Tired. Worn out. I’m in the ditch. I’m banged up, bruised, bleeding, sweaty, and cold. I’d wave my white flag if I had the strength. I’d cry “Uncle” but I’ve got no tears left to cry. I’ve got no desire to even raise my voice or move my lips. I’m tired of being a casualty in this war for grace with people who don’t want it. I’m spent. I’m broken. As we like to say in Texas, “put a fork in me cuz I’m done!”
The thing is, I love grace. It has absolutely wrecked me from the inside out. It’s changed my entire life. It’s given back everything that years under legalism took from me and then some. Grace is the most beautiful thing that ever existed. The gospel is so good that it is absolutely unbelievable. Just fighting with myself to believe it is hard enough. The truth is, I’m just too stubborn to let go of the control. Maybe that’s the problem. We so badly want to believe the gospel- we forget that “Lord, I believe, Help my unbelief!!!” is the key. We need the Holy Spirit to move within us. Believing that there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves or make God approve of us? That’s impossible apart from grace. It’s crazy talk to our flesh that feeds on control.
It’s the same with others. We want so badly for people to understand this grace that we’ve been set free by. We want to point to the oxygen all around and say “LOOK!!! Don’t you SEE it!?!?!” We get blank stares or worse, arguments about how we need to just focus on inhaling and exhaling better. We want to scream “HELLO??!!! You can’t inhale or exhale apart from the OXYGEN!!!!”
It gets exhausting, the rules. The unending lists of rules. We make them up, we dress them up, we hold people to them. The unspoken ones, the spoken ones, the written ones. All of them. Everywhere. Handing us empty promises giftwrapped in threats. The message of the law is “do or die”. It’s a death sentence. When will we understand that for the most part, we spend more time handing out death sentences disguised as life rafts to people than the good news of the gospel? We are all drowning in failure because we can’t possibly measure up to the expectations we’ve put on one another. What we really need is to be reminded of our rescue. Jesus is our life raft. Not keeping the law. Not keeping up the list of rules. Not meeting other’s expectations.
But no one wants to hear that someone else kept the law for them. We want to believe that we have some part in this deal. I need just one thing that I can look to and say, “ah ha! I did it!” The thing is, if we stumble in just one point of the law, we are guilty of the whole shebang. Jesus either fulfilled all of the law on our behalf or none of it.
The Lord is kind to bring a “grace awakening” ,as some have called it, to our moralistic culture. He is bringing each of his children back to the simple truth of the gospel one at a time. It’s incredible and encouraging to fellowship with believers everywhere who have been going through this same process of finally seeing this “oxygen” for the first time. It’s also discouraging to see it happening so slow over the universal church. Which brings me back to that whole control thing. We want the American church to hurry up and get it. What we want is a beautiful thing. To have places of worship that’s just about Jesus alone. Safe places to worship Christ and to celebrate the gospel. Safe places where everyone realizes they are sinners and no one is afraid to share the skeletons in their closets. We want to hear chains fall off and see people set free by grace. What we long for is a glimpse of Heaven here and now. And why shouldn’t we desire that?! We should.
So we fight for it. We pray and we shout the gospel from the roof tops. We share it one on one with anyone who will listen to us. One day we’re just trucking right along when all the sudden we get sucker punched in the gut with law. We get backhanded with guilt trips. It came so fast we never even had the chance to react to it or jump out of the way. And here we are in the ditch, wondering what happened. How did I get here?! Too tired to attempt to crawl out and dress our wounds we just lay here and think, “why is the gospel so hard to find in our churches and among believers?” We’re sad and discouraged.
This is where I’m at, honestly. It’s not pretty by any means. I doubt it’s even encouraging- but it’s real and it’s honest. The only thing that gives me the courage to fight another day for the sake of the gospel is this passage below…and it’s not in my own strength. All I can do is rest my weary head on the one who gave his life for mine. The one who came and threw me over his shoulder and ran with me out of the burning building of legalism. The one who walks with me daily and shows me the oxygen all around. There is no one else to go to. There is no one else I would rather be with. Better to be lying in a ditch for the sake of the gospel than to be back atop my high horse beating others back from grace. Lord, help.
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:65-69