“It’s Not About God’s Wonderful Plan For Your Life”

The images used in this graphic page contrast two different worlds, yet whatever the Gospel is, it must have a message for both worlds.
Whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” I know that for some people that will sound like blasphemy, like I’m denying a Biblical fact. But I’m not. (At least, I’m not trying to do so. I just want to clarify.)

If you are familiar with “The Four Spiritual Laws,” you will know that this is the First Spiritual Law. (Who doesn’t like laws? And especially laws that say you can have a wonderful life?) And honestly, I’ve used “The Four Spiritual Laws” to share the Gospel. But the more I see of life, the less I’m inclined to want to use the words “a wonderful plan.” I want better words that tell me what God wants, not what my imagination wants.

In some respects, “God has a wonderful plan for your life” sounds like a “sales pitch,” and I don’t think that would have worked very well in the early church when being a follower of Christ meant possible imprisonment, torture, and a horrible painful death. There are still places in the world where it can mean these same things. Let’s be honest. None of those gruesome things “sell.” It almost gives me the impression of being “false advertising.” This is particularly true when you look at the perfect “truth in advertising” Jesus provided.

People are probably going to “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:11 (NRSV)

And that’s just to start. Think about it. You have to tell yourself “No” and give up everything that’s all about you.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 (NRSV)

Whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “Yes, your Mommy is an addict who would do anything for drugs and your Daddy cooks meth in the garage, but God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Isn’t that a lot like saying, “Your parents are failures. They totally missed God’s wonderful plan for their lives.” It’s that a lot like separating a child from their only source of survival and hope for tomorrow? That’s scary.

Eventually the hurt child may even create an idea of “a wonderful plan for your life” far from the reality they experience growing up, a reality that only happens in “happily ever after.” That’s scary too, but for a different reason.

Maybe that’s why evangelism often fails with children who have grown up. (I say “children who have grown up” here because even as adults we still carry our childhood self with us.) We know that reality seldom matches what we imagined. Sometimes we do the same things our parents did, and hate ourselves and our lives all the more for it. Sometimes we experience things that feel far from being part of “a wonderful plan,” so we blame ourselves, feeling like somehow we’ve missed something.
Maybe we need to ditch our own made up imaginary “happily ever after wonderful plan for your life” ideas and see what God really offers.

In the end, I think the only guarantee we have is this.

“…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NRSV)

Jesus Himself. He alone is a wonderful plan for your life. Sadly, we may only discover this when all of our imaginary “happily ever after wonderful plan for my life” ideas have failed us.

So maybe the message should be “God has a wonderful plan for your life and it’s all about knowing Jesus”?

“Forgiveness…Even For Myself?”

(This is a “Trigger Warning” for this post which looks at how childhood sexual abuse can make it difficult for a person to love and forgive themselves.)

There are some verses in the Bible that assume things about how people are.

There is no commandment in the Bible to love yourself. It’s just assumed that everyone does.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39 (KJV)

There is no commandment in the Bible to forgive yourself. It’s just assumed that everyone does.

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:15 (KJV)

But not everyone loves themselves. Not everyone forgives themselves.

This can be true when we have made bad choices mostly perhaps on our own such as choosing addictions like drugs or alcohol, starving ourselves or cutting ourselves.

This can be true as well when we have been manipulated or forced into making bad choices without fully understanding what is going on or what the consequences will be. Childhood sexual abuse can make it very difficult for a person to love themselves and to forgive themselves.

Sometimes there is an abuser, a predator, who has very carefully manipulated the situation so that they seem to be not at fault. The abuser may be “just trying to help” or “taking the place of someone else who can’t or won’t help.” These are lies and deceptions that mask their true intentions.

The abuser may even make the child believe that it was really his or her own idea, not the adult’s idea, and that they are just as naive as the child, just playing a game that the child wanted to play. They may say something like “Just remember, this was your idea and what you wanted to do.” They will not say that they are enjoying the manipulation, the power, the control, the sexual thrill.

Looking back with adult survivor eyes, there may be pain, embarrassment, and the feeling of betraying oneself. You may doubt yourself. You may blame yourself for not being smart enough, for being gullible, for liking the attention, for allowing yourself to be used like that.

Years and adult decisions can put distance between the adult survivor and the abuser, but how does one make decisions to put distance between oneself? How do you get away from yourself? There is legal recourse that can be taken against an abuser, if you choose to take that route, but how does one take legal recourse against oneself? How do you make yourself pay?

Here is the dilemma.

If someone hurts God, treats Him like He doesn’t matter, then that person is going to pay for that betrayal. You mess with God, you are going to pay. The gun is loaded and cocked. The gun is fired at Jesus instead of you. This is sometimes the way that the Gospel is presented. Someone has to die. It’s either going to be Jesus or Me.

If someone hurts Me, treats Me like I don’t matter, then that person is going to pay for that betrayal. You mess with Me, you are going to pay. The gun is loaded and cocked. Only in this case, the gun is fired at Me.

When we hurt and betray ourselves, that’s not against God. That’s not messing with God, so maybe Jesus didn’t die for that. God gave Jesus to die for the hurts we give to God. Jesus took the penalty that rightly should be ours.

But who am I going to give to die for the hurts I gave to myself? The only person I can give to die for the hurts I gave to myself is me.

Stuff like this can make you want to kill yourself. No lie.

So think about how Christ and His Cross are presented. Is it like “when there is sin, the gun is loaded and cocked so somebody has got to die”? Jesus was crucified so God could change His mind about us? Is that right?

This next quote was part of our message on The Second Sunday Of Easter, and it came at just the right time as I was thinking through what to say in this post:

“Jesus didn’t come to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God.”

This is an important message for everyone, on the last pew or not.

There is only one thing that I want to add for those on the last pew who hate themselves and are unable to forgive themselves for whatever reason, including those who believed lies, were misled, and abused as children. Even though everyone has a different story, is remains true for everyone who was abused as a child.

“Jesus also came to change our minds about ourselves.”

You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong.

You were never in control of the situation, even if you were led to believe that you were. You could not have been smarter. You could not have figured it out on your own. Your abuser was not your equal. Your predator had a plan to succeed no matter what you did or didn’t do.

I believe with all of my heart that just as Jesus came to change our minds about God, He also came to change our minds about ourselves.

He can change your mind about yourself, and He can heal you.

Here is the only other part that I’m putting in bold. If you can relate to this and are struggling with this or know someone who is…seek counseling. There are resources available that can help you. I’m just drawing and writing from my limited perspective. But there are professionals that can help you. Seriously. Jesus is right there with you on the last pew. Honestly.

“Voices From The Last Pew” Update

This is a “trigger warning” concerning tomorrow’s post for “Voices From The Last Pew.”

It will be titled “Forgiveness…Even For Myself?” and is a companion posting to “Forgiveness…Even For Them?”

The post will take a look at how some people have a difficult time forgiving themselves, and the new person sitting in “The Last Pew” reflects on how she was abused sexually as a child.

This posting today is just a “heads up” in case some readers may be concerned that this may bring up painful memories from their past. You have a right to deal with things based on your own timing.

Hopefully it will be a good post, one that the Holy Spirit can use to bring help and healing.

“Voices From The Last Pew”

I’ve been thinking for some time now about adding a new graphic strip, one that is more on the serious side and shares maybe something different.

There is a great variety of Christian blogs on WordPress, and I’m unsure exactly where this one fits. (Then again, that shouldn’t be anything new for a guy who has felt out of place most of his life! A guy who has been and maybe still is both “Church Insider” and “Church Outsider”!)

The past few months have given me a chance to read a good number of posts here and to see a little better what’s happening in the world. So I’ve wanted to add something new that will reflect what I’m seeing.

There is a great deal of hurt going on and many people struggling to recover from past wounds. It’s something with which I feel a desire to help by hopefully binding up wounds even though I did not cause them.

Hurt and abuse that is done to us or that we do to ourselves are serious topics. I’ve been preparing a new graphic strip tentatively titled “Voices From The Last Pew.” It will hopefully offer some insights into adults struggling with big hurts and big questions since many times hurting children grow up to be hurting adults.

The “Last Pew” can refer to either “the last pew at the back of the sanctuary closest to the exit door” or “the last pew a person will ever sit in before giving up completely.” This last reference is particularly important for those of us who believe that we should never knowingly shut anyone out.

The initial perspective will be along the lines of “This is what the church is saying to the ‘Church Insider’ but this is what the ‘Church Outsider’ is hearing.”

I must be honest and say that I have no real 100% guaranteed answers, but I do believe that it is so very important to acknowledge, just acknowledge, that life experiences can effect how we hear God’s Word.

Ultimately, I believe, God’s Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ, speaks the answers that heal and restore.

The first posting for “Voices From The Last Pew” should appear tomorrow and will deal with “Forgiveness” and the question “How can you ever forgive someone who has wounded you so very deeply?” Again, no real 100% guaranteed answers because I’m not offering “Miraculous Multiplying American Christian Apple Pie” here! Hopefully this will open some hearts however!