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How Do We Hold to Our Christian Convictions and Love Our Neighbor As Ourself?

We Christians speak a lot about our convictions. In case you are a little fuzzy as to the meaning of “conviction” or new to faith in Christ and the vocabulary that tends to accompany Christians in the west, I think this definition lends itself well to our discussion:

Conviction: a firmly held belief or opinion.

Some of us have quite a long list of those, do we not? And those of us who identify our theology, our view of Scripture and our opinions of how the earth began, why we are saved, how we are saved, and what that looks like to our future in a historical framework that identifies with a movement such as that of the early apostles or the Protestant Reformation, our lists are firm and lengthy and highly defended. Phew. Did you catch all of that?

It’s okay if you didn’t. Your faith in Jesus Christ does not depend upon heady theological knowledge or pedantic discussion. But some of us are just nerdy enough to love that stuff.

Regardless of how academic your study of Scripture and your faith’s underpinnings may or may not be, you also hold convictions. Beliefs. Opinions. They may be in regards to a style of worship you prefer or the denomination of a church or how a church operates or how we are to live out our faith in practical application, but sure enough, you’ve got convictions. What do you think they are? Would you die to defend them?

Last summer my husband and I traipsed our way through London and Oxford. Both are incredible places to visit for a whole slew of reasons, and we lapped up everything from the historical building where we stayed to watching tennis at Wimbledon to eating our way around the Borough Market.

We find ourselves in that heady group of people who overly love history, biography, bibliography, social science, literature, geography, and theology. In other words, we geek out at museums, monuments, historical places, and graveyards (let me tell you about the cemetery in Oxford!), and we read and discuss our way through it all, simultaneously planning the next excursion. We’re those parents who stop at historical markers and read them aloud to our kids. I think they probably hate that.

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Being those people, Westminster Abbey alone is like a mecca of historical everything. I remember the first time I visited, at the age of 12, and when I looked down to see the marker upon which I stood, I declared, “I’m standing on David Livingstone!” (I presume. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

We found ourselves once again walking through Westminster Abbey last July, pointing things out to each other as we went. For us, the history of Great Britain and the UK holds a particular fascination for a myriad of reasons, but specifically because it is so intrinsically entwined with our Protestant faith and its roots in the Protestant Reformation. If we were Catholic, we might feel the same connection.

Even if you don’t know the historical details or the timeline, you’re probably familiar with some of the people involved: Martin Luther’s protest against the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, King Henry the VIII, John Wycliffe’s English Bible, Queen Elizabeth I, John Calvin.

The Clashing Convictions of Elizabeth I and Mary I

Which brings me to the tombs of Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, both entombed at Westminster Abbey. Briefly, for our purposes in discussion of Christian convictions, what you need to know about these two historically important women is this:

  • King Henry VIII (the one with six wives) changed England’s official religion from Roman Catholicism to the emerging Protestant church when he established the Church of England in 1531. It was a spiteful move devoid of theological conviction; the Pope wouldn’t grant him a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, so in an act of personal defiance (more “I’ll show you!” than “Gosh, I really believe what the Reformers are teaching”), Henry pulled England into the burgeoning religious conflict of his time.

  • Which leads us to his daughter, Mary I. Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. You can imagine how, after her dad divorced her mom and went on to behead his next wife, sweet and cozy their home life must have been. Indeed, when Henry died, Mary’s half-brother inherited the throne but he died just a few years into his reign, and for nine brief days, Lady Jane Grey was made queen for the very reason that the ruling politicians of the time did not want Mary to rule: Jane was Protestant. Mary gathered her supporters and put an end to that, having Lady Jane Grey beheaded and assuming the throne.

  • In just five years of her subsequent reign, Mary had over 280 dissenters (people who didn’t agree with her Catholic faith) burned at the stake, earning her the moniker “Bloody Mary”. She died at the age of 42, leaving the throne to her half-sister, Elizabeth I.

  • Elizabeth I and Mary I had a rocky relationship. At times, they were in support of each other, but more often they were at odds. When Elizabeth became queen, she returned England to the Protestant ties of her father, and once again the Church of England was headed by the monarchy there. Separation of church and state wasn’t a thing, for better or worse.

Did Elizabeth and Mary hold religious convictions about the way in which they chose to worship the Judeo-Christian God and his son, Jesus Christ? There is obvious historical evidence that Mary was a stalwart of Catholicism, and she stood by her beliefs despite a political climate that could have meant her martyrdom. The same could be said of her half-sister Elizabeth, who not only posed a natural threat-by-association to Mary’s throne, but who stood in disagreement with Mary’s Catholic faith. Remember, Mary was sending Protestants to be burned at the stake and exiled during her reign and restoration of the Catholic church in England.

Copyright:Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Copyright:Dean and Chapter of Westminster

And there I stood in the room which houses the tombs of both Mary I and Elizabeth I, knowing the back stories of these women and the unparalleled cultural influence they had on not just England, but neighboring countries and allies as well. Imagine if your convictions had worldwide consequences. Imagine being laid to rest on top of (no, really—Elizabeth’s coffin was buried on top of Mary’s) the sister you disagreed with on a scale that sparked a cultural and historical climate change, twice.

Imagine if your convictions had worldwide consequences.

At best, theirs was not an easy relationship. Their sibling rivalry had cultural implications. Their declarative convictions held life and death ramifications. Should they not have held to them?

As I stood in the room that houses both queens’ monuments, I thought about their opposing beliefs and what it might have been like to wage that war. Could they have been kind to one another, despite their differing views? Could Mary have held to her Catholicism in a Protestant court and asked to quietly worship the way she believed? Could she have held to her convictions without killing a lot of people in the process?

And then I looked down at the head of the great stone effigy of Elizabeth I to see this, embedded in the stone floor:

Copyright:Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Copyright:Dean and Chapter of Westminster

I was struck. Those words, carefully chosen no doubt, by some historian or believer (or both) tell us what we need to understand about our own convictions: We believe the things we do and will lay down our lives for Christ and conscience’s sake.

For Christ and conscience’s sake.

Not to put them upon others, standing in place of the Holy Spirit in the life of a friend who follows Christ, nor to browbeat a friend or neighbor who does not yet believe. For Christ’s sake. For our conscience’s sake.

Those divided at the Reformation held different beliefs. Who’s to say they were better beliefs?

I just wrote the previous sentence and it rubs me the wrong way. Certainly, aren’t my convictions and beliefs better than someone else’s?

Better is God. Better is Jesus. Better is the Word he left for us to read, an eternal arrow that points us to our true hope. If that is our conviction, it is right. It is better. It is everything.

What is yours?

By the way, engraved at the base of the monument to Elizabeth and Mary are these words:

Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep Elizabeth and Mary, sisters in [the] hope of the Resurrection.

How do we hold our Christian convictions and love our neighbor as ourself? Stand with Christ. Don’t stand against your neighbor. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.

Convictions, at their best, serve to further the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow us to be brothers and sisters in the hope of the resurrection. May we be wholly committed to the hope of the resurrection, for the sake of Christ, because if ever we are fooled into thinking our choices make us better than anyone else, we have forsaken the gospel of Jesus Christ. His Resurrection makes us all equal before God, not better.


What To Do When You Just Can't Do Church Anymore

What To Do When You Just Can't Do Church Anymore

What To Do When You Just Can't Do Church Anymore

If you read the title of this post and immediately identified with its sentiment, you may not be surprised to know that there is a growing number of church people out there who just cannot bear the thought of involving themselves one more time in a church community. We identify with that red-blooded hero of American independence, Tom Sawyer, who quipped, “I've been to the circus three or four times—lots of times. Church ain't a circumstance to a circus.”

You’re also well aware, I’m sure, that we are in an era of Western Civilization that has largely rejected the truth of Christianity and exchanged it for all manner of post-modernism. I won’t be addressing those who have rebuked a faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ entirely in this post. This one is for those of us who still love and want to follow Christ, but who are just so very weary of the gathering of his followers.

I’m going to give you some things to think about and hopefully a way forward, but I want to preface it all with a statement I know to be 100% true:

I am not the Holy Spirit.

Take everything I write with that big sentence ringing in your ears.

So while I am not your Holy Spirit, I can stand here as a compassionate reminder that you can listen for him and seek God’s truth, and being one of the people who points you back to Jesus is my heart’s deep desire and the reason I write in the first place. I’m no substitute for God.

That having been established, these are the truths I know about being in an emotional space where you just can’t do church anymore:

1.

You don’t have to do church anymore.

For some of us, church attendance was a non-negotiable weekly imperative with many assumptions attached to it. Our attendance and involvement has been linked to our faithfulness, our commitment, and our spiritual depth. Church attendance should be none of those things.

It’s entirely okay to step out. Just do me a favor and read the rest of this post before you tell someone, “Well, Kendra said I don’t have to.” That’s not the whole story (and I shouldn’t have that kind of power in your life anyway).

2.

You may have been doing it wrong in the first place.

And here’s why: What is the reason you were going to church all that time? Family obligation? Habit? Because you’d heard that we aren’t supposed to neglect meeting with one another?* Because it was an essential part of your religious behavior? Because you were performing for the eyes of others?

Really think this one through, because although potentially shocking, it may reveal the deepest reason you may have for not wanting to be there anymore. Legalism and/or bad religion are like that. The thing we thought was going to bring us {joy, freedom, acknowledgement, fulfillment, friendships, satisfaction, __________} never, never, never does, unless it’s Jesus himself. Church isn’t Jesus. Church can become just as big a prop and idol as drugs, alcohol, power, and sex.

And here’s why you don’t need to do church for the time being: If you were doing it for all the wrong reasons, you need time to examine all of that, parse it, root it out, and discover the real reason the church is supposed to be gathering. That statement in Hebrews 10 about not neglecting to gather together is not about adherence to a behavior. It was said because the author was a human, too, and as a human, he knew our profound privation in regards to encouragement, relationships, and community. Each are essential elements to emotional and mental health, and as Christians living in a time and place that showed only animosity toward their beliefs and practices, the writer was letting the Hebrew believers know that being together was crucial to their survival.

Us, too.

*Hebrews 10:25, 26

3.

God will meet you right where you are.

Literally. In your apartment, in your car, lost in the crowd of a megachurch, in the doctor’s office, face down on your bed. He’s not bound by space and time.

Existentially. In your pain, in your fear, in your abject weariness, in your loneliness.

He’s not judging you for pulling out of church for a time. He’s not mad at you for taking a break and breathing some pure oxygen. He might just show you himself in a fresh, powerful way.

4.

The timing to exit a church or return to a church may not be your timing.

Go (or return) when you know you need to. When you begin to understand that you need to go or stay, then go or stay. There isn’t a right or wrong. God is just that kind.

Friends or family might voice their concern if you haven’t plugged into a church community yet, but you only need to listen to the Holy Spirit. Going back because guilt or obligation have been the impetus may do you more damage in the long term than good.

5.

Church can be all about one thing for the time being.

Church is all about one thing: worship. Yes, of course we gain and give many peripheral benefits by our attendance and involvement, but the bottom line is, we gather to worship God together. We do not go to focus first on people, being social, or doing stuff. Going to the service to focus on worshipping and connecting with God and then heading quietly out through the back door is absolutely acceptable, and maybe even necessary. Answering a concerned or critical question about why you aren’t involved/serving/plugged in/part of a community group can be answered with a simple, gracious, “I’m working through some stuff and just need some time, thanks.” Then walk out the back door.

6.

There is a community somewhere for you.

You might not even find it for a long, long time. You might need to create it. You might need to spend a year or two or more praying that God will show you exactly where he wants you to be and when. In the meantime, use the same response as above: “I’m working through some stuff but I know God will direct me when the time comes. Thanks for asking. How are the kids?” I threw that last line in there because some people are tenacious and it’s a great idea to change the subject and move on.

You’ll find your community. And if you never do, God’s working in that, too. In my loneliest seasons, I find myself wanting more of Christ. It’s such a great place to be.

It seems there’s plenty to do when you can’t do church anymore, but our faith is at its essence about being, not doing. Out of our being, out of what Christ has done, we are compelled to do. He makes that happen. He enables us. It’s his work, not ours. In the meantime, know how loved you are by God. Understanding his love for us changes everything.


I Left Legalism and My Family Doesn't Approve

I Left Legalism & My Family Doesn't Approve

One affiliate link for Leaving Legalism below

Out of a small book with a big heart has come questions from readers like you. Earnestly trying to figure out this whole “leaving legalism thing”, your struggles are honest and deep, and multi-faceted.

Family relationships are rarely simple.

We’re left with the question of how to love people when they don’t agree with our choice to leave a rigid church environment, and it’s not simple, because family relationships rarely are. And now with the holidays upon us, the notion of spending time with family members who ooze disapproval is stressful, disheartening, and a genuine downer. It can leave us feeling like we’ve taken two steps backwards.

I Left Legalism and My Family Doesn't Approve

Don’t think for a minute you’re alone in this. Here’s just one of numerous notes I’ve received, but I’m keeping this one as anonymous as possible for obvious reasons:

Question for you: When you leave legalism, but have family (my parents) who have not, how do you walk well with them? We packed our bags 11 years ago for the sake of the gospel, have grown in the gospel, but are looked down on because we live it out differently, i.e., enjoy alcohol, smoke a pipe (well, my hubs, not me), friendship with homosexuals, walk with drug addicts—all sorts of very different things from my Baptist roots.

I still feel there are times I am creating a checklist, and making laws for my life, and feel I am doing something wrong (like hubs shouldn’t smoke a pipe, but it’s more because of what my family would think of him, but Lord knows I am not posting pics on Facebook of that!) Is there a fine line of sharing, and being careful to not offend? I don’t know? But I do get a smack in the head from the Spirit, that I am not resting in the grace and freedom He gives. sigh.

I feel at times my identity is still wanting approval from my earthly father, trying to shake that, but thankful how Jesus is showing me these things! I feel so close to real freedom, and have been away from legalism for awhile, but man those roots run deep!

A Question of Identity

I think a lot of us struggle with our identity: Who am I? What is my mission in life? Who am I not? For those essentially rejecting what shaped their childhoods by those who communicated that identity to them, the issue of identity can be especially confusing.

Now is the time to stop and define who you are. If you’re still walking in Christian faith, your identity is formed by what God, through Jesus Christ, did for you when he chose to enter our fallen world and put his life on the line for our sake. It’s all his work, his plan, and his unparalleled goodness that we get to claim, through grace.

It’s why the video that plays on this site’s homepage reads, “Grace will change your life.” At the core of our lives is our identity—who we are—and the grace of God is the all-encompassing formation of who we are.

How Understanding Our Identity Makes a Difference

Now let’s connect the dots between knowing our identity and being around family members who don’t approve of our choices.

For those of us who were caught up in legalistic environments, whether by choice or parentage, the attempt to please man usually takes precedence over a desire to please God. Even if our goal was to please God, we had a mixed-up, works-based definition of what that means. The truth is, God is already pleased with us. Because of what Jesus has already done, because of Calvary, because of the cross, because of the faith He’s given to us, God is already pleased.

Let that sink in.

For so many of us, the idea that we already have won the affection of the creator of the universe simply because His son died on our behalf is a concept very far removed from our law-loving hearts and minds. It doesn’t seem right. In a universe where everything else must be earned, the free approval of God Himself just blows our minds.

Take the idea that we can’t reconcile free approval (grace) for ourselves and apply it to our earthly relationships, and there we see how easy it is to assume we must earn the love of God. If my earthly father is disappointed in me, surely my heavenly father must also be. If I have to perform for the approval of the people in my church, surely I must perform for God, too.

Again, now is the time to stop and define who you are.

What do you believe? Do you believe Jesus when he declared that he had finished all the work there was to be done when he hung on the cross and took our sin into his death?

Do you believe that God takes delight in you? His Word tells us as much:

Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (ESV)

Isaiah 62:3-5 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (ESV)

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There are so many more verses and passages that tell us how God delights in us. You can search and find and dwell on them, and I encourage you to do so.

The critic, or legalist, will of course point out that there are equally passages that talk about God’s hatred for the wicked, and that’s true. But here’s the thing: You are not the wicked. You have been redeemed. You are made clean and pure by the work of Christ. To say otherwise is just really bad theology.

So, Then, How Do I Hang Out With My Family?

Let’s make this whole discussion about identity and believing the truth about whose you are inform how we now deal with family and friends who don’t approve of our choice to leave their brand of legalism.

You’re going to be in situations where your family doesn’t approve of your clothing choices, your food preparation, your current church, your parenting, your job situation, your friends, your hobbies, and on and on. . .

When their opinions are being voiced, you have the opportunity to remind yourself (and spouse and kids and friends) that God is already pleased with you. Remind yourself (say it in your head, loudly) that you are loved by God and nothing can change that. Smile outwardly. Usher your kids out of the room. Leave, if you have to. But remember, always remember, that your identity—who you are—is in Jesus Christ, and he is very, very pleased with you.

Luke addressed the physical leaving of family in his gospel: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”(14:26) Sometimes following Christ means leaving behind the family and life that would have you believe that you must earn your salvation in some fashion, because following Christ means believing the truth of the gospel instead of the pronouncements of legalists.

Leaving legalism can be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. A disapproving family heaps guilt and shame tenfold over the guilt and shame we are trying to leave. But don’t forget Whose you are and what He’s done for you. Remember, now is the time to stop and define who you are. Now, before the holiday gatherings commence.