Love, wrapped in a sandwich: Anabaptist church in Bronx NY, serves healthcare workers at Medical Centre

Rich Schwartz, the lead pastor of BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHURCH, a small Anabaptist-type outreach church in the Bronx, NY, shared the following last evening:

** On my way back from a site inspection in Manhattan, I stopped in at the ER at Jacobi Medical Center here in the Bronx. I had some very helpful interactions with a police officer who has been stationed there 18 years, a nurse who is a 30 year veteran, and two H.R. people with 30 and 16 years experience. All of them said they have never faced such difficult times at the hospital as they are facing now. There is a very real shortage of every kind of PPE. As the police officer walked me from the main building over to Building Four, we passed a refrigerated tractor-trailer that had the back open. The police officer grimaced a bit as we saw dozens of bodies taking up probably 70% of the floor of that trailer. They weren’t stacked on top of each other, but it was surprisingly full of bodies in body bags. Eerie.

Tomorrow (03/31/2020) at 12:30 p.m., we are hoping to bring in individually wrapped sandwiches, coffee/tea, and juice to the nurses and doctors at the ER of Jacobi Medical Center. I have a contact there who said they would welcome this. Rich **

This is church. Living. Breathing. Giving. Loving. No walls. No pews. Those things have their place for encouragement. But this is church that I can get behind, 100%.

This morning, interacting with Rich via Messenger, he added this:
I would advise the public to pray, meditate on Psalm 121, and look for ways to love others well.

It takes courage and compassion to walk into such a space surrounded by death, when you are under no obligation to o so, humanly speaking. When practical, hands on, frontline duty could be left, by virtue of their training, to doctors, nurses and others who ‘signed up’ for this through their profession. This pastor’s visit to the Jacobi Medical Centre opened up doors to serve and show love in practical ways, so that his congregation is now making food for the healthcare providers at the medical centre. (I asked if there was a place for people to donate. The following email is the church’s PayPal, if you would like to help with the costs of this ministry: bjcgive@gmail.com).

After my exchange with Rich, I received the following message from his wife:  This is Sandy, Rich’s wife chiming in. 😀 There is a possibility that we will be able to video call patients in the hospital to pray with them. Pray that we can do that! Such an awesome opportunity!

Let’s pray for them as they reach out to the sick and hurting, and the medical team looking after their needs. To step into the suffering of others is not easy. Pray for the church as they show the love of Jesus to those around them.

We can’t all go to medical centres and offer assistance. For one, it would be counterproductive and become saturated, creating extreme and unnecessary risks. But we can all listen to the nudging inside of us, and do the next right thing, and care for that one person within our reach. We who are believers ‘signed up for this’ when we accepted Christ as our Saviour and Lord, and committed to walking in the Way of Love.

*****

COVID-19 THOUGHTS, MUSINGS & NUMBERS:
I’ve followed the numbers closely from the start. There is much public speculation about whether the numbers of cases are ‘real’, and comments like, ‘most of these people would have died anyway’, and that kind of thing. Or, ‘they’re fudging the numbers to scare us’ and take away our freedom. Or, we can’t stop it anyway, we might as well let it run its course, live our normal lives and see what happens.

We’re all entitled to our thoughts. That’s one of the beautiful things about free will. We are even granted freedom of speech (at least in relation to this, for the most part, as far as I have seen and know). We won’t all agree, and that is ok too. Ideally we disagree respectfully.

For all the memes and jokes we’ve seen (or created) about the toilet paper shortage — because that truly is funny, at least until you run out of TP in your house and are left to scramble — the disease itself is not funny. It is ruthless and harsh. Whether the people all would have died or not is not the question. Based on what friends in healthcare are seeing, the answer to that question is, “no’.  A friend who works in a hospital watched an otherwise healthy individual, almost ten years younger than me, succumb to COVID-19. There was no underlying heart disease, diabetes, or other disease that made this person high risk. No medical reason for someone so young to die. Young. Healthy. Gone.

Reading Rich’s experience, how he saw the truck with bodies lined on the floor… That’s not a normal death rate. That’s not a ‘they would have died anyway’ situation. That is the outcome of a high risk disease spreading at unmanageable rates, taxing the healthcare staff. We can’t afford to have our medically trained professionals burning out. For that reason alone, exercising caution is the most respectful and loving thing we can do for our neighbours.

On the other hand, hearing  Rich’s experience, what he saw on that truck, is no reason to live in fear. I do not say this for that reason. I say it as a call to ‘love in action’ and to encourage respect for others’ wellbeing during this time. Just because I am not afraid to die does not mean I have the right to impose such risk on others.

The restrictions by governments across the world are to protect the public, by preventing rapid spread and unnecessary infecting of countless people. To the argument that they don’t protect the unborn, making them hypocrites for pretending to care now, my question is, “What bearing does their failure in one area have on our duty to protect life in every situation?”  Regardless of the failure of government in any area, my duty is to protect life always, as much as I am able. If they are comfortable killing babies, I should be no more comfortable causing unnecessary death and harm to others. My duty is to Christ, first and foremost, and to show love and grace in whatever situation I find myself. Right now, the best way to love those around me is to not put them at unnecessary risk.

I’ve seen strange claims that this is an attack by government on our faith and religious freedom as believers. No it isn’t. It isn’t persecution against the church. We are not victims here. God is not taken off guard by the scenario, and I have a hunch He’s trying to speak to the church, but some of us are too busy playing the victim to hear him. If it really was persecution for the sake of Christ, we should rejoice, not fight for our freedoms. But it isn’t that. We are all shut down together, along with our friends who are atheist, Muslim, Sikh, and every other religion.

So saying we are being persecuted is a bit of an embarrassment to Christianity, as though somehow we should have special rights. First of all, it isn’t persecution. Secondly, a life of ‘special privilege’ is not what Jesus said His life would offer us. Thirdly, in everything that happens, God is about pursuing hearts, and if we align ourselves with His vision, we don’t have space to play the victim. We have only an opportunity to love well.

Sin and death have done a number on us, on our world. Disease is part of the curse of sin. But God…

These difficult times are an opportunity to show love to others in ways we do not normally see. We tend to be so busy about our own lives that we don’t see opportunities to share the love of Jesus in practical ways. Right now, if we stop fussing long enough to see and hear, there are countless opportunities to bring the love of God to people, even from the quiet of our homes. Seize the moment, as a Jesus-believer. Show His love and grace.

Let’s pray for the countless sick across the world and in New York. New York been hit hardest in USA, with over 75,000 sick in that state alone, with over 180,000 across USA infected. New York, alone, has almost as many cases as have been reported in all of China. Even with fudging numbers, if such a thing would be happening, there is a staggering number of sicknesses and death, with evidence Rich writes about to validate that it is a significant and traumatic number of infections. They need our care and our prayers.

And let’s pray for the many struggling with suicidal ideations as a result of fears surrounding COVID-19. There have been numerous high profile suicides — including the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state, and a nurse who feared she had infected patients — which has the potential for ripple effects. The hopelessness that comes from not being able to see their way through the present pandemic and inevitable aftermath speaks to a deep need within the human heart. Our desire to feel safe, secure, cared for is normal.  When that is shaken, we need a deeper hope. We need to know that in our need we will not be abandoned. In Jesus we have that hope. And if we are in Him, and carry His hope, we have something to offer. Not in preaching condemnation. But in loving generously and in prayer.

Admittedly, there are moments I don’t know what to say to God, or how to pray, in all of this. And the simple prayer that rises from my heart is this, “We need you Jesus. We need you. The world needs you.”

We need Him desperately. And the world needs Him. We are His hands and feet, ‘living among them’; the brokenhearted.  It is our opportunity to show the world that Jesus is kind and generous. He is hope. He is peace. He is love. He is present. … present, through our love.

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2020

Holdeman Mennonite Man in Tanzania Experiences Miraculous Healing Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Due to the offence taken, harsh judgement and confusion, I removed the original post. To read the update on Jason and Mel Hunt, click the following link:

UPDATE ON MAN MIRACULOUSLY HEALED IN TANZANIA

*****

To all who are working the front lines — doctors, nurses, truckers, researchers and many more — thank you for your sacrifice and the risks you take to ensure people have their needs met. I pray God’s blessing and protection over you.

Remember to choose joy in your journey. Be kind. It shows character and grace. Laugh often. It builds up your immunity and is bonding. Give generously. It builds morale. And trust God. Faith is a powerful force.

In closing, one of my favourite hymns: How Great Thou Art, by Anthem Lights.

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2020

 

Male? Female? Neither? Both? Who is God?

Who is God… really? This is the one big kerfluffle–among other kerfluffles–entertaining Christians on social media, or distressing some, as the case may be. Some are intrigued, some are distressed, and some cry heresy and apostasy. But what does God say, when He speaks for Himself?

Personally, I’m fascinated by the question, and have been for many years. It started when I was 21, a conservative Mennonite Christian, shocked by such a representation. To say it out loud felt particularly scandalous and disrespectful, because God was a ‘He’–and not only in the pronoun sense, but in a male-gender-specific identity. All my life He had been this big man in the sky with a powerful stick. I feared Him. But never for a day in my life did I wish Him to be female. And I still don’t. But my reasons are entirely selfish; I’ll be honest. Too many women with influence and power in my early life were manipulators and in my mind it was much harder to deal with than a big, mean–even violent–male, who is at least predictably harsh and unkind. That was my view of men, generally, and women, just as generally. Why would I want a God with female attributes? A cosmic manipulator? Yeah… No thanks.

And then I read the Bible and things started jumping out at me differently; a God with feminine characteristics and attributes, but not a manipulator. I had read the verses before, but my conditioning had caused me to miss what was right there. When I read the first part of Genesis, over and over, picking through it with a fine-tooth comb, trying to grasp everything in it. Creation. Man. Woman. Mankind. In God’s image and likeness. Both of them. A reflection of the Almighty… Me? You? I found it hard to absorb that He had made females in His image and likeness, as well as males. (Image: צֶ֫לֶם noun Masculine. Likeness:  דְּמוּת noun feminine… not to mention the very direct wording.)

The thought of God looking at me as His reflection rocked my world and gave me a sense of eternal identity like nothing I had ever known. For many years I had believed that God was/is male, that men are made in His image and likeness, and women are… well ‘the refined version of man’, made in man’s image but prettier, softer and curvier. Someone had actually made a statement to this general effect when I was a preteen or teen, and I bought into it as truth. (Coincidentally, moments after typing this a friend private messaged me on Facebook–not knowing I am working on this blog, and that I just wrote this–and said: “I thought woman was in the image of man to be his help mate”. Clearly I am not alone in this belief/teaching.)

Reading the first few chapters of Genesis as though I had never heard them before, and re-reading it numerous times, what stood out was Genesis 1:26-27 where God clearly states making ‘male and female’ in His own image. If we, God’s daughters, are made in the image and likeness of God, it can mean only one thing; the triune God has feminine characteristics. Some insist it is only the Holy Spirit who displays feminine attributes–the nurturer who comes and comforts–others say the whole thing is heretical, at best, and anyone who ascribes to such a belief is an apostate who no longer believes in the One True God. But when I read my Bible, with no agenda, as it is written, I see over and over again that God is shown “…as a mother…”, and “…as a father”, and Jesus is always “the Son”, therefore to refute any feminine characteristics in God is to refute parts of the Bible. Even so, when I ‘picture’ God, I don’t get the image of a female. Ever. But I no longer get an image of a male either. I get a sense of mystery and wonderment. A God who shows up in a burning bush… in a dove… through a donkey–and a female donkey at that… It begs the question, what have we done to femininity and womanhood to find it the one ‘vessel’ unfit for God? Why is this the one thing by which we are so offended? Is a female donkey really so much more sacred than a woman made in God’s image and likeness? Or has religion warped our view of femininity to such an extent?

talking donkey

Frankly, it disturbs me that the Bible gives examples of God showing up through objects and creatures, and no one finds it scandalous, and yet when the Bible clearly states it, those who accept at face value that God has feminine attributes are silenced, judged and slandered. What a shame and tragedy.

Do I believe then that God is female, as opposed to male? Maybe both? Or neither? Here is what I believe, without apology: God is neither male nor female. He is generally portrayed as a Father, sometimes a husband, sometimes as a mother, and in Jesus He is male (and a brother). He is not limited to ‘form and body’, nor is He ‘gendered’ or subject to the terms we assign Him based on our limited human understanding. He is simply the Great I Am. The “I Am that I Am”, who enters our broken experience in whatever form He chooses. As His daughter, made in His image, I do not think He finds femininity repulsive or beneath His dignity; I believe it is a part of who He is. I reflect that part of Him, and He quite delights in me.

And my husband, who has loved me well, and reflects God beautifully….  I think God is kind of like that, just more perfect, holy, and without flaw or weakness. A ‘male’ God doesn’t frighten me, but limiting God to such ideologies is not biblical and I won’t pretend it just to win a crowd.

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

On Questioning Faith & God Because of University?

“Be careful in the Master Peace and Conflict Studies,” the woman said, most sincerely, “a few of my friends did it and came out questioning their faith.”
“Too late,” I said, “I already question…” And I was amazed how vulnerable it felt to say those words out loud, but paused a moment, because it is true, and then continued with explaining. “Given the work I do, and the horrendous things I hear and see in Christian communities, I’ve been questioning my faith for a good six years. Daily… It’s inevitable…. I’ve often said, ‘If it wasn’t for God I’d be an atheist.'”
I don’t know her well, the woman who spoke those words when we bumped into each other downtown. I even had to think twice about her name when we parted ways, and would have been clueless if her friend hadn’t walked by and called it out before we parted ways.
Truth is, I do question God. Not His existence. Not even His goodness. But God Himself, and how things are what they are with the suffering of little ones on the streets, being trafficked… and in His house… the molestation. No, there’s not a fragment of a doubt in my mind that He exists, and is good… But these questions about His household run deep, so I question. My faith has been taxed heavily, and I have questioned for years. And I hope I continue. Because there are a few simple ‘hard truths’ I cling to for dear life, but with everything I know of life and crime, in church and on the streets, I fear that by the time I stop questioning, I will have come to the wrong conclusion. So I question, and God listens. Sometimes He answers in ways I can cling to, sometimes He just listens. At least for a while.
It is not possible to know what I know, of darkness hidden in religious communities, of hatred (by some) for those who desperately want truth on all levels (not only convincing doctrine)… Of leaders so insecure in their calling that they write off and attempt to silence anyone who speaks into that hidden darkness…. No, these things are not possible for me (and for many others in the trenches) without questioning both God and faith, in some way. I’m sure there’s some easy religious answer to explain everything, and make it all look nice again, but I can’t do that, can’t go there. A few Bible verses, lengthy prayers or one hundred or even a thousand ‘Hail Mary’s’ just doesn’t make the hard reality go away, or even more bearable. Nor does booting out a few demons heal every inner trauma. Those solutions work much like masking tape on a wet surface. It sticks until it doesn’t. And when it no longer sticks, there is a need for deep, compassionate care. (For the sake of everyone who feels a sense of obligation to burn their candle at both ends until they suffer burnout, let me add… ‘Compassion with boundaries’, because Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout are real… and knowing when to step back is critical. Also, it may not be the hard stories that wear you down. Be aware of personal stress triggers, and set boundaries accordingly.)
Anywhere else I can reconcile wickedness, but not among the Jesus people. It violates every part of what He came to be and do. Especially when hidden and then protected under a guise of forgiveness, while the naked victims stand by, beaten with stripes they never deserved, just for admitting to pain. I can even reconcile wickedness happening among Jesus people, because of human struggle and scars of unhealed wounds, but when there is an agenda to hide or mask over without deep acknowledgement of the suffering it has caused, and care given accordingly… Not that.
So, yes, I question. And, yes, I have walked through more than one faith crisis in my six years of ministry. The one thing that has helped me refocus, is speaking truth over others, because there is truth that I cannot ‘unknow’ even if I wanted to, and that truth is the love of Jesus, and when spoken it has power. I fall hard on it’s simplicity. And in moments of hopelessness, I have grasped it with slippery fingers. Still that love remained, and remains still. I have grasped it when grief at what I see ‘among His’ washes over me, defying that grace-filled love, realizing it’s all I have…
Now, having nearly completed my first term, I find it fascinating that rather than causing me to question God, and the things He allows in this messy world, it has affirmed my faith. It has helped tremendously to take a step back from being so close to trauma in religious communities, and take a break from the harshness of it to study. It has been a good thing and a God thing.
That said, I know my journey well enough to know I will continue to question and wrestle as long as I work with victims and offenders of sexual violence. I wish at moments that I had suffered nothing of abuse in religious community… that I had heard none of it… that I was innocent of knowing the cover-ups… All so that I could walk in innocent, intoxicating-ly sweet love relationship with Jesus, oblivious to the messiness of crime and wickedness in church. The tired heart of six years of investing, at times thanked, at times cursed, struggles, but it is a rare and selfish moment that cries for this innocence.
Instead, I will continue to do what God has called me to do, pressing into His heart for answers when I question, wonder or wrestle. Because it is in those moments I realize how imperfect, inadequate and human I am, and how much it is His love that carries me. And that, alone, makes every question a faith-building one.
Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

Messy Grace, Dipped in Blood

My  new coaching client sat across from me,  suddenly distracted. Her eyes ‘popped’ in shock. She gasped. We had spent a bit over forty minutes talking, exploring her dreams, her talents, her desires, and the challenges to match. Unlike most of my clients, who are working through one trauma or another, she had come for career help, and I had asked her a question. The sudden diversion startled me.

Instinctively my eyes followed her gaze and I saw him, an elderly man, hitting the cement, then leaning up a few inches and dropping again. Did he try to lift himself up, or did his body bounce? I saw it and wondered.

The mind and body are fascinating, in a moment like that, when consulting reason is not even on the radar; they simply engage one another in reasonable and necessary action.  Nor does dignity or any other thing hold an ounce of importance, or factor in, in any way, in a moment like that.  I shot to my feet, and ran through the coffee shop, and before my mind had fully registered what it was I saw, I found myself kneeling beside the gentleman. He struggled, attempting to sit up. I put my arms around him, and leaned him slightly forward to lift his head from the unkind hardness, while asking him questions. He was coherent. I felt the cement under his back, and wished I had an extra sweater, a jacket or a blanket.  I had enough dignity that I wasn’t willing to sit there in my bra so he could have my sweater, but I certainly would, if needed, to save a life.  Most of us would.

From my vantage point there was no blood,  until I sat him up.  That is when I saw blood running down his temple, his neck and onto his chest and shoulders, and his hand dripping a steady pace.  I looked for something to use as a compress, at the same time as I asked my client, who had followed me out, to go in and find napkins or something  and bring them back, and to make sure to call and ambulance.

The manager came running and for the next twenty minutes, or so, we sat there, holding an elderly man’s hand and forehead.  There was blood on the ground, blood on his pants, his shirt and matted into his hair. It was all over our hands and arms, and a bit on my white shirt. Blood stands out on white.  My client sat behind the gentleman, providing a back-rest, while the manager held his forehead, and I held his hand–now gripping mine in solid tension. We chatted and laughed, as we sat there. He was so appreciative and said he was okay, that he had just lost his footing. It had happened a few days ago, too, and he had hurt his finger. He showed us his crooked finger, bent at the last joint, in an almost -perfect 90 degree angle.

As we sat with him, bleeding all over us and himself, people drove by. They looked. A few gentlemen came and asked if there was anything they could do. One was a fireman, the others made no indication that they had any training. They were just concerned.

Something else happened as we sat there, all covered in blood. In fact, two things. First of all, we bonded. We cared for him. We held his wounds. We connected. (Admittedly, I was afraid to ‘touch’ his raw wounds. Not because I feared being contaminated but because I feared contaminating them.  One never knows for sure what germs or bacteria we have come in contact with and the immunity of the elderly potentially being compromised, I assessed the extent of the bleeding. It wasn’t life-threatening, though steady, so I waited for the compresses. (Obviously, had he been bleeding profusely, I would have taken the chance.) And the second thing that happened was that we learned a bit of his story. He told us that he had a ‘weaker side’ because of a stroke twenty years ago and hence the recent tumbles.

By this time we had retrieved an umbrella from his truck, and sat there, in a spritzing rain, talking and still holding his wounds.  A staff member came with some forms and asked questions. What did we see? Who saw it first and what did we do?  Who were we all. Names. Addresses. Phone numbers. All those things.

The paramedic arrived and together we helped the gentleman stand up, and seated him on a chair, under the awning. We stayed a few minutes, answering his questions, then went inside to wash the blood off. The red stain on my white new sweater stayed. I hung my scarf over it, and returned one more time to the elderly gentleman, to wish him well.  That’s when I thought of his wife, at home, and how worried she would be.  Would it be okay if I popped by their home to tell her he was okay, but needed stitches and to get checked over? He thanked me and said how nice that would be.

I had just given my new client a good-bye hug–you do that after intense moments like that–and was almost to my car when the manager caught up to me. The gentleman had one valid concern. His wife would need the vehicle, but would have no way to get it. I said I would offer to drive her back to him, and to get the truck.

She met me at the door, moments later after I rang the bell. To make sure I had the right house I asked, “Are you Mrs. ____?”

“Yes….” she said, looking quizzically at me.

“First of all, your husband is okay, so don’t worry, but he did have a tumble at the coffee shop. He said you would need the vehicle–would it be okay if I drove you there?”

Moments later I dropped her off,  made sure she had everything she needed and headed for home. The rain had picked up, and I remembered that my car window was stuck… open.  My old Mazda had picked this day to malfunction with an open back window. How convenient. I tried half a dozen times, unsuccessfully.

I took to pleading with God, at that moment, about something as piddly as a stuck window, all because I didn’t want rain in my car. I tried again and, “Tada!!”  it went up. I whispered a thank you as I drove out  off of the coffee shop parking lot.

My mind got busy then, thinking about many things. Why does God answer little prayers about broken windows, and neglect big ones like a dying loved one, a chronically ill family member, those who desperately need jobs and many other things. And I had no easy answers. Just the awareness that God is God.

I saw the blood again, and the elderly gentleman’s eyes, as he thanked us and told us how nice we were. And then the awareness that his blood had been all over me, and I had hesitated to touch his wounds, afraid of contaminating them.

That’s when my mind wandered to church. To people who are bleeding.  And we sit there, like my client and I, in our coffee shops.  And I wondered if we get so busy with our coffee, and conversations, and whatever things we all do, while people bleed only feet away.  I thought of how I had my back turned, and my client–thank goodness she was ADHD, she said, and observing everything–was the one who noticed the gentleman, almost before it happened.  He could have been there an hour, with me only feet away, if she hadn’t been there.  And, while that wouldn’t have likely happened, I couldn’t help but think about, when I considered church. Or if, when we see the ‘fallen and bleeding’, do we even run to them, or do we get scared  and run the other way again.

I wondered what it would be like, in church, if we stopped being afraid of each other’s cuts, and wounds and scars. What if we weren’t afraid to get all bloody, and have stains on our new white clothes.  And if we put our hands on those gaping wounds without fear of contaminating, or being contaminated, and we held each other up, spiritually, even while we bled…  And sitting there, under an umbrella in the rain, we could get to know each other and hear the stories behind the pain… the stories about why we have ‘weak sides’ and stumble…

canstockphoto5339896

And then, when the weak ones, with bleeding wounds, need help with walking to a place of rest, we who are stronger could square back our shoulders and let them rest on our strength until they are safe….  Until they find that rest in the One who Bled Love for us,  all messy and dipped in grace, when we were in that place of need and brokenness…

What if… Yes…. What if?

© Trudy Metzger

 

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Losing Religion & Finding Community

“You know you’re supposed to do it? How long will you fight it?” He looked deep into my soul. At least as deep as I would let him, and then a bit deeper, as my defenses broke. Just as quickly I did the only thing I know how to do when I’m too vulnerable, when my soul is bared, and I would rather hide and retreat; I laughed.

“I don’t know. I’ll think about it though, I promise,” I said, still laughing. His challenge, urging me to start a group/meeting for the broken and hurting, came at the end of a lengthy conversation about the brokenness of people. Particularly in churches.

Having suffered much, he has wearied of how Christians present as ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’ all the time. Because, with few exceptions, that’s what nice church people do. And say. And are. Happy, victorious, healed, and ‘fine’ Christians.

canstockphoto13947014

If you don’t agree, try it sometime. Go to church and when asked how you are, if you’re not in a good place, be real. When they say, “Good morning! How are you?!” with a big smile, and warm handshake, respond with transparency. Don’t bother to smile, or say “I’m fine, thank you.” Forget about social graces for just a moment. Look them in the eye. Look longer, and deeper than is comfortable. Pause awkwardly before saying a word. They’ll squirm and you’ll want to run for dear life. But don’t let go of that hand because, odds are, you’ll both turn and run, if you release them.

When the awkward is about all you can handle, still looking them in the eye and holding their hand, which they, by now, are most likely trying to wriggle free, say, “I’m really not doing well. It’s been a hard week, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it. It feels like hell!”

If they ask “May I pray for you?” say, “Sure, if it makes you feel better, but it would mean more if you helped clean my house. With the time I’ve spent caring for my dying mother (or whatever hardship you’re going through), even basics are neglected. My bathrooms, especially, could use a good cleaning.”

If they have stopped smiling, and don’t simply mumble, “God will provide”, before apologizing that they need to run, then consider yourself in a good place. If that person says, “When can I come clean your bathrooms?”, know this, you are in an exceptional place. If they acknowledge your suffering and share how much they struggled with anger, loneliness and feeling as though God abandoned them, after some great tragedy, they are extraordinary. Most have excused themselves by now.

We withdraw because we fear people’s pain and suffering. But, as my friend pointed out over coffee that day, suffering is an opportunity to connect. It is the single universal experience all humans share. Every person on earth suffers. Some experience joy. Some success. Some happiness. But everyone suffers. Eventually.

Why, then, are we so uncomfortable with suffering? Here, my friend pointed out, it is our faulty view of God that rams a stick in the spokes of our bicycle at most in opportune moments; our ‘vendor machine’ view of God, if I pop in a prayer, out should come a miracle, an answer, a solution. And the world should be made right and perfect and wonderful.

But we do. And it doesn’t. Our prayers rise. And our miracles fall with a splat. Our faith gives way to questioning. Eventually it grows tired and we wonder… Does God care or even listen? And, as Christians scamper away from our broken pains, we conclude He doesn’t. Because they don’t. And suddenly God makes no sense. He should have done something. But didn’t. He let us down. And answers don’t match the questions.

There, with props yanked out… faith and religion having failed us… abandoned by the God of religious obligations, we are finally free to meet the true God. He sees us in that gutter, filthy, weary and faithless. And He doesn’t run. Or fix. Or pray it all away. No. He gets down on His knees and crawls into the gutter with us. Unkempt. Looking worn and haggard, bloodstained and naked–His garments having been stripped by the religious rulers who despised Him too. And suddenly we are understood. Nothing is fixed. Nothing has changed, circumstantially, but we feel hope. Because that’s what happens when someone enters our pain, offering only love.

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That is what community was meant to be. And it is the community we hope to create, a place where the broken Jesus is welcome, and imperfect people are loved.

If you are local to Elmira, Ontario, and have suffered spiritual abuse or feel misunderstood and long for a safe place, a community where the broken are valued, and all are invited to contribute, regardless of class, race or gender, send an email to info@generationsunleashed.com for more info.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is in you.”  The Kingdom of God is not some distant goal we strive for, it dwells within us.  (Luke 17:21) Everyone of us was made with a ‘Kingdom purpose’. And that is not a religious statement. It is an invitation to love, as Jesus did, and offer others an encounter with divine grace, regardless of circumstance. Together we advance the Kingdom of God, by loving our neighbour.

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(Written for the Elmira Independent, September 4, 2014. Ending has been revised.)

 

© Trudy Metzger

 

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Is the Answer to Become a Conservative Mennonite Again?

It started in pleasant conversation, with a friend from my former denomination–CMCO Mennonite–and turned into an ‘as-pleasant-as-an-abuse-conversation-can-be’ interaction. We’re on the same side of this battle, her and I–both standing firmly against the wickedness of abuse–and in agreement that the silence must be broken, and help offered to victims, and perpetrators helped and held accountable.

Photo Credit: Toronto Grand Prix Tourist (A Toronto Blog)

I don’t know how it came about, exactly… I carry in my ‘knowledge compartment’ many ‘secrets’ for countless people, and about countless people. Now, they’re not really ‘secrets’ any more, if they are the stories and experiences of my clients, because as we work together, I walk them through the process of repentance, confession and bringing to light the hidden darkness. (Ephesians 5:13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever is made manifest is light.) Having exposed these things, the darkness is dis-empowered, the secret is broken, and the power is gone.

Still, they are ‘secrets’ in the sense that I am one of very few people whom they choose to tell, besides the people they have wronged or been wronged by, and whatever trusted friends they choose. These stories I carry, without a word to anyone, in my ‘knowing’. I don’t carry the burden of them, because Jesus has taken that burden.

The other kind of secrets, however, are a very different thing. The kind where I know horrible things and the person, or persons, involved have covered up and maybe even lied about it. These still are not mine to carry, but they do offer a different burden. It is troubling to know that ‘good Christians’, including leaders, would not take ownership for sins that have brought great spiritual destruction to others. It bewilders me. (And I don’t care if it happened before church membership, or before accepting Christ. That excuse is nonsense. Take ownership! )

And that is what popped out of my mouth…. The thing I said out loud is a ‘secret’ that I have known for several years, involving several church leaders. It was not told to me in confidence but still I cannot talk about it carelessly, and I don’t. Mostly I don’t tell details at all, unless I am conversing with someone who I think might be able to help, or influence change. I have watched as the aftermath unfolds and chains pass on, but there is nothing can be done on the legal front. (There has been some effort, by some people within the church, but things are managed quite carefully. And they are such ‘nice’ people, some of those with hidden things, that the wool is quickly pulled over the eyes of other leaders.)

Lest anyone think I ought to first go speak to my ‘erring brother’, I agree. And I have. I sat right in his house and asked him if he made the past right, and he said yes.  And with one victim he did–at least he said his piece in church about having become involved in immorality. But when another case was revealed, and another man told me what this leader had done to him, I asked that man, “Didn’t he come back to you and ask for forgiveness?” (Because he had already told me he made things right.)

The man shook his head, weeping and said he never heard from him. “For three years he used me…” he said, tears flowing down his face.

And that is the troubling truth I spilled out a few days ago. “What do I do with this?” I asked. I laid out the picture, how the leader used the man, when they were teens, and how the leader had been used by his older brother–who is also a leader–who had a sexual relationship with his cousin, and all three of their children having continued to abuse others.  And nothing can be done because everyone is past sixteen and those who know don’t want a kerfuffle in church, and those not in church have no proof. Just their tears, scars and struggles…

There was a pause.

“What am I supposed to do with all that? What is the right thing to do?” I asked again, earnestly. Her response completely blind-sided me. She is very thoughtful. Calculated.

“Now…” she paused, as if collecting her thoughts and arranging her words, just right. That, or she was’t sure how I would take what she had to say. “I think you are very balanced in what you have to say. You really know about how to work with this stuff…”

She paused again and came in with a most stunning question. “Have you ever thought about coming back to the church, and pulling with us?” She said some more things about that, but it all blurred together as I processed. No one had ever invited me to come back before.

“It would never work,” I said. I didn’t need time to think about it much. Because I already have. Probably a thousand times or more. “I would never be received back into any Mennonite church.” How to explain what I have seen play out in the lives of others…

“Why wouldn’t it work?” she asked ask sincerely, and innocently, as if not able to imagine the rejection that would be inevitable..

To write all that flashed through my mind at that moment would make a fine little book. To condense it, difficult.

“It just wouldn’t,” I said. “I wouldn’t be received.”

“What do you mean by that?”

I explained something she might have known, having watched me all those years ago, struggling to fit in. But it seemed to have evaded her. I think she just accepts me as I am, and doesn’t quite understand the fires I dance through, still, and did since childhood, for the things I say and do. For simply being who I am.

“I never fit in, even back then, before I had experienced another world, another culture. I don’t fit the mould; I’m not quiet, reserved… and could never go back to trying. I’m more of a Deborah… a Jael… I’ll put a nail through the head (figuratively speaking) if that is what it takes to do God’s work. I’m different… And I spent my whole childhood, a misfit, not able to line up. I couldn’t do that again. And, even if I did, I would be silenced so fast…”

Again she needed me to explain it. Her sweet innocence really believed that I could come back, follow the rules, and be a real asset to the healing and redemption in the church. To the ending of sexual abuse.

Oh how I wish! Would I be willing to go back if I knew I could change the lives of hundreds of children? Absolutely! Hated or not, and rejected or not, I could and I would! But, alas, as others have tried and I have watched them be put out of their churches for everything from ‘sewing discord’ to ‘bad attitudes’ to ‘lack of submission’. And, looking at the lies and rumours I have had to bear for my work, even being ‘outside’ the church–and I mean blatant lies, that someone conjured out of thin air, coming from leadership (I just heard of another deacon’s wife spreading lies this week)–I cannot imagine I would make it more than a day, or two.

Oh, sure, I said, there are some who I think would receive me well. Even leaders. And I mentioned one couple, not far from here, who I think really would try. Genuinely. They wouldn’t understand me, but they would love and accept me if I came back. I know it. But I would be a thorn in the flesh of the church, and the emotional, psychological and spiritual angst it would stir up, to experience on the inside what I have experienced from a distance, would throw the strongest of souls into deep depression.

Even at a distance that is a demon I have fought, almost daily, in working with ‘my people’, and dealing with sexual abuse in my cultural background. Almost daily, before my feet ever hit the floor, I lecture myself about God’s love and goodness, reminding myself that He has my back, that He knows the truth, that He is on my side. Because I know when I start moving my feet, and the rumours trickle in, I will need that ‘helmet of truth’ firmly in place.  I know that if I am not grounded with Him, I will be a bleeding soldier at the end of the day, with no hope left. With Him, I am a bleeding soldier, but His blood gives me life, even as I seem to bleed out on the ground.

Would I go back to the church of my childhood? No. Because I know better than to believe that dealing with the sexual abuse within, would work any better as ‘one of them’ than it has from a distance.

Really, what she said was very sweet. It seemed sincere in every way. Not some manipulation to get me back inside the walls. Not at all. But a genuine belief that we could work together.  And that was quite an honour, to be sure.

My prayer is that God will raise up godly men and women within, who have influence at a leadership level, to tackle this darkness head-on. My prayer is that walls crumble. That there is help for victims and perpetrators alike. It is the only way to bring an end to this violence, crime and evil.

So, while I may don the attire for a purpose, and though I will always have love and compassion for ‘my people’ in my heart,  I think that question is settled, deep in my heart…

But to imagine it, for just a moment in my head,  was fun. If I were to return, the bigger question would be ‘which kind of Mennonites?’ and I have already narrowed that down to two options…

It would be Amish or Old Order Mennonite, without question…

July 7 2012--2 Wagler family 158b

 

 

© Trudy Metzger

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2014: Embracing A Year of Adventure & Change

Each year New Year’s Eve rolls around, and we gather with family or friends, or both, and celebrate all that has been in the 12 preceding months. The good. The painful. The devastating. The incredible.

Through laughter and tears, we thank God for it all; it blends together to shape our lives, to make us who God wants us to be, if we give it all back to Him.

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Looking back over 2013, it is with mixed emotions, particularly from a ministry perspective. We did more retreats and conferences than any other year to date, and that growth seems to be continuing in 2014. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a few more thoughts about 2013…

There was a time I said I would never do ministry among ‘my people’–the Mennonite culture–because I feared rejection. Still, when God laid it on my heart in late 2012, I found myself, almost instinctively, planning a conference for this spring as though it was everything my heart had ever dreamed of. When fears surfaced, I pushed them down, reminding myself that the thing God calls us to, He also gives us the strength for.

The conference took place in April, and went off pretty much without a hitch. Worshiping God with so many believers from my background is one of the most wonderful things I’ve experienced in my life. There was life. The Holy Spirit was present, without question, healing hearts, stirring souls, and denominational barriers were broken. At least for some of us, and for a time.

That weekend opened a floodgate, and many new doors to ministry. I was busier with one-on-one sessions in the months that followed, than I had ever been, and that continues to this day. With those open doors, and those sessions, came more stories of abuse, violation, and violence against children. And as we worked through those stories, and mediated between victims and perpetrators, resistance grew.

Since April 2013, we have experienced more attack, more resistance, more lies circulating than we have in three years ministry. That tells me something. We’re getting dangerously close to exposing something the devil has a vested interest in hiding. It has nothing to do with Mr. & Mrs. Martin, or Mr. & Mrs. Weber, or Mr. & Mrs. Bauman or Mr. & Mrs. Wagler or some Ms. Anybody, or Mr. Anybody Else. Sure, they and their families might slip into a rage over the exposure of hidden sin, or they might retreat in shame and silence, and some will hate on me and spread lies,  but it’s not about that.

It’s about God and the Devil. Ultimately God loves truth and justice, and the devil hates it. When lies come against truth, those walking in the truth continue to walk in the love of God and the truth of Christ. But when truth comes against lies and the devil, those walking in lies get all riled up and begin letting the enemy use them as tools to spread darkness and hate. And they suddenly busy themselves trying to cover their evil at any cost. And that brings backlash to anyone involved in bringing that darkness to light.

I said I expected it, when I went into ministry in the area of sexual abuse in the church. And I thought I did. I thought I was prepared. But when it came, it still blind-sided me. I wasn’t as noble as I desire to become, in how I responded or reacted. From time to time, when I met the people who were responsible for spreading hate against me, in stores or churches, and they glared or turned and walked away, I struggled. It took the grace of God to be kind, to wish them well, when, at times, I would have rather ‘said my piece’.

And that struggle is okay. God never asked us to not feel the anger, hurt or pain. He asked us to walk in the Spirit in spite of those feelings. I failed at moments, but constantly my heart cries out to be more filled with the Holy Spirit, and become more like Jesus.

It has taken a lot out of me, the battle in the mind. Hearing absurd lies about oneself, and having friends turn their backs, gets a bit wearing. But it has not changed anything as far as vision is concerned. Whatever God leads me into, even if it ends in twice the ‘hell’ I’ve fought this year, I embrace it.

Having said that, it appears as if 2014 may be a different flavour, and He may not be asking me to do any conferences here, with the local hostility. I’ve felt no ‘pull’ to find a host church for a similar conference, and don’t feel the slightest bit compelled to plan anything of that nature. (That will change in an instant, however, if God speaks the word.)

The only exception is a women’s conference, if it works out. We have a dynamic Old Order Mennonite woman from USA, who I hope will speak at a conference for women. She has a powerful testimony and is an anointed, Spirit-filled believer with a gift for speaking. If that works out, we will have her come join us for a local conference in late 2014.

All other conferences, so far, are scheduled out of the country, beginning with a mixed audience, Shatter the Silence Conference in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. We will work in partnership with Pastor Dale & Faith Ingraham, of New York, whom we had at our conference in April 2013. With true ‘servant hearts’, they will join us in sharing through testimony, and teaching.

Chambersburg conference posterChambersburg conference brochure outside

brochure insideAfter the conference,on Saturday evening, we will also do our first ever sessions–like a mini-seminar–for married and engaged couples. We will teach God’s design for marriage, and share vulnerably about the impact sexual abuse has on marriage.

It is exciting (if not a bit scary) to think about opening that part of our story to the public. Exciting in that I know it will help other couples, and scary because we’ve never shared that part of our story. Even my closest friends know only little snippets of our journey, and the hell we went through. I’ve never even written much about it. There was so much trauma, at times, and it was where the ‘hell of childhood’ came out in night terrors, flashbacks and angst like I had never known or acknowledged in my life. I think of those early years with Tim as my safe place to ‘feel the past’, really, for the first time.

Even now, as write, I’m back in that era… I even went back in time and purchased Silverwind music on iTunes, and am listening to ‘Only Jesus’. How I remember listening to that song, over and over again, knowing there was truth in the words. “Like a bird, whose wings are broken, wishing I could reach and touch the sky, Then the word of God was gently spoken, Suddenly my heart was free to fly… Only Jesus…. Jesus… makes my heart soar like a bird… Only Jesus… Jesus…  can free my soul with His word…”

Tears pour unashamedly as I listen to the words, the music, and remember what once was, and the healing God has brought into my life. And the sweet truth that, when His word was spoken, my heart was healed, set free.

And that is the message we will share with couples in Chambersburg Pennsylvania, who are fighting the demons of past abuse, and hiding the shame of that struggle. That part thrills me.

There are several other ‘out of country’ events in the works as well, including a 4-week conference/speaking tour in New Zealand and Australia this fall, God willing.

Writing will continue to be a big part of my life. Possibly even more than in the past. A friend awakened an old dream to write fiction–something I tried years ago and did not enjoy then, and didn’t feel was my niche. But I may just give that a ‘go’ again, when I finish my current projects.

There is also ‘rumblings’ of a bill being passed that will prevent me from continuing with one-on-one sessions, as I do them now. While I have never called myself a counselor or psychotherapist, the reality is I work with trauma and using a Christ-centered approach to working through that trauma with people. It’s effective. It produces results. It’s life changing for my clients. But soon–I’m not sure when, exactly–it will be against the law for me to do what I do, as I do it now, I am told.

This will change my life dramatically, unless we work around it. Instead of sitting with clients 3 to 5 days a week, I will look at moving into doing more conferences and speaking. It’s a tragedy, in my opinion, though I’m sure the motivation is to protect the public. Or at least so they say.

Makes me wonder what the world was like before the government controlled everything. Probably some negatives, but maybe some positive things too?

The only way around it will be to do fundraising, and offer a free service to people in need of a listening ear. And, as donors get on board with Generations Unleashed to make that possible, we may just end up being busier than ever. What I know for sure is that God has redeemed every potential negative in my life and in ministry. No doubt this is a set-up for something very different than it appears to be.

As this change and the unknown lie before me, and our ministry, all I can say is, I can’t wait to see what God has in store. Each year brings with it pain and tears, intermingled with great joy and celebration. Looking back there isn’t a year in my life that I would erase if I could. Some are hard to remember. Very hard. Particularly those early years of marriage and parenting when the hell of the past revisited me mentally…. If it were not for the husband God gave me, with a patient and godly heart, I don’t know what might have happened to me.

But even those years God is redeeming and using for His purposes and His glory. Knowing this about Him gives me confidence that 2014 will be a Kingdom building year. A year of relationships. A year of Redemption. A year of Change. A year filled with God’s blessing in every trial and every success.

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2014, I welcome you, with all you offer. My God has given you to me, and I am jumping in with passion, purpose and commitment!

© Trudy Metzger

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Bearded Men, Religious Views, Gay Rights & Free Speech in a Duck’s Dynasty

Everyone else is chattering about it, I decided I might as well too. Usually addressing these ‘trending topics’ doesn’t interest me too much, so I stay away from them, even if I have an opinion.

And that was my plan this time too, but somehow I got drawn into this Phil Robertson saga. And it’s not because I watch Duck Dynasty. Mostly I haven’t the patience, the interest, or the attention span to watch anything on TV, including the news. Maybe especially the news. Most definitely, if it isn’t on CTV and free–which Duck Dynasty is not–I certainly won’t pay to watch it. Some day, however, when it shows up in second-hand stores, I’ll purchase Duck Dynasty and watch it at my leisure. Of that I’m quite certain.

The purpose of that little anti-TV rant? To establish that I have no vested interest in what happens to Phil Robertson, based on the show. Of course it is possible that I may change my mind after I find it in the used goods store, and ‘fall crazy in love’ with it. For now, I could care less about the show.

What got my interest is the hype on FB. Admittedly, when I first saw the ‘bring Phil Robertson Back’ status updates and invitations to ‘Like’ pages about it, I ignored them. Didn’t even know who the man was. After a day, or so, when I saw his bearded face and read his name in context with Duck Dynasty, I got curious and started clicking links and reading.

Part of me wonders what the big ‘social media deal’ is and why the fuss, even now that I know what happened, and what caused the ruckus. Didn’t Jesus give us a heads up that truth would not be appreciated? Is anti-Christianity not prophecy fulfilled? We should expect a bit of rejection. I get it all the time for speaking truth, and I get it from ‘within’ for exposing sexual abuse in churches, so this doesn’t shock me at all. If the religious, who have hidden sin, can’t handle truth spoken because it offends them, why should the secular world respond with more grace?

Acknowledging this ‘conflict with truth’ and the reality that we should expect rejection, is one side of the equation from a blatantly Christian point of view.

On the other hand, some Christians protested loudly to the war on freedom of speech. While I understand it, and have no problem with people actively standing for freedom, it is a view I can’t fully agree with. Both sides clearly spoke their minds, and neither was thrown in prison for it, so freedom of speech wasn’t taken from them.

Phil Robertson had freedom of speech. He did precisely what I think he should have done. He said what he thinks and believes with no apology. He is a Christian and, as such, embraces the Holy Bible as his authority on matters that collide with secular society. That’s what he said and it got him in trouble with his employer who has a different view. If he had been hateful, that would be a different thing. To believe something to be sin, and say so, isn’t hateful. It’s being honest.

A&E took action against Phil, based on their beliefs and views. They also exercised freedom of speech. And well they should. If it is their organization’s stand that homosexuality is acceptable and anyone who takes a stand against it publicly doesn’t reflect their views, then are they not being true to themselves to act as they did?

I’ve worked for a Christian organization that got rid of an employee for living in homosexual sin, and wasn’t willing to repent. To keep the employee, who clearly no longer embraced the values of the organization would have had huge ramifications had that truth leaked out. Without question the organization would have lost financial support from many sponsors and donors. They couldn’t afford to keep the employee. And, truth is, there was a collision of views and, in my opinion, that organization had the ‘right’ to get rid of the employee if it’s freedom of speech we are arguing for.

If that story had leaked out, I can’t imagine there would have been a ‘cry for justice’ regarding freedom of speech. And, had the individual taken it to court or gone public, there would have been an outpouring of prayer support. We can’t have it both ways, folks. Either both sides have the right to stand for personal beliefs and convictions–or lack thereof–or neither side has the right.

Granted, the whole thing falls apart right about there. Because if the fired gay individual goes to court, they’ll win. Hands down. Every time. The law is a donkey, at times, when it comes to justice for both sides. It leans heavily in favour of certain views.

Nor should we expect anything different. Life is a battle between good and evil, right and wrong. It has been since the fall of man, and it will remain that until the return of Christ.

We should not expect secular society to embrace, endorse, or support our views, unless we want to embrace, endorse and support their views. We should expect there to be a gap, some sort of ‘consequence’ for taking a stand, rather than buying into the worldview that is so popular, that all should live in perfect harmony. It can’t happen. Jesus prophesied that He would bring division.

Furthermore, God gave us all freedom of choice and we should, therefore, extend the same to the world around us. I’m not saying we should not speak out against sin, crime and all ‘darkness’, but we shouldn’t expect to be appreciated or even ‘accepted’. Prophets in days gone by were murdered for speaking truth. That didn’t stop them. We should speak out, respectfully, and pay the price.

Whether it is calling sin ‘sin’, or actively proclaiming the evils of murdering unborn babies–cleverly disguised as ‘freedom of choice for women’–we should be bold and firm in our stand against darkness. But in all of that we should never try to make the world ‘accept’ us, or walk in the light. Nor should we be hateful or obnoxious about it. That’s counterproductive. Ignorant, really.

If freedom of choice, given us by God, is something we want to exercise, then women should get to decide whether they have an abortion or not. Homosexuals should get to decide if they want to live in same-sex relationships or not. Secular governments should get to decide whether they endorse gay marriage or not. That is their God-given ‘right’ to freedom of choice, lifestyle and speech. Why should I take from them the right to choose between a life that honours God or glorifies sin? God gave me that choice.

And while they’re busy making those decisions and living out the consequences for their decisions, I should stand firm in the truth of Jesus Christ. I should speak His truth. All of it. Without apology. And I should love them, without justifying sin.

That truth will collide with their lifestyles. Truth is, this battle is over no duck’s dynasty, after all. It is a war between good and evil, God and Satan, right and wrong. If that were not so, then our truth would not be such an affront to people living in sin would. They would simply shake their heads at us poor misguided souls. But, even kindly spoken, and gently lived truth is an enemy.

We should always remember that until people know God, through Jesus Christ, intimately and personally, the truth about bearded men with biblical views, the truth about sin, and the reality that freedom of speech is two-sided should not make any sense to a lot of people. Why should they value the things that matter to God, when they have no understanding of God Himself?

Maybe, if we live the life of Christ boldly, fearlessly, regardless of the outcome–even if it means getting kicked off TV, which most of us need not fear–and speak the truth of Jesus… maybe, just maybe, the world will come to know our Saviour.

© Trudy Metzger

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