Flame-Broiled Grace

Every diet needs balance to be healthy. And, while fine on occasion, all meals should not be served flamed-broiled. Neither should all messages on Grace be served with Hell Fire.

****

She sat across from me, her hair neatly tucked under her prayer veiling, black covering strings in place, and hand-made ‘cape’ dress perfectly fitted. A church leader’s wife.

We conversed about many things. Her role as a leader’s wife, and what is expected of her. Their adolescent children. How they view Jesus and grace.  And then she took me off-guard….

“It’s almost as if we are uncomfortable with God’s grace,” she said.  (That’s true, I thought to myself. And so are most conservative Christians.) “I wonder why that is?” she added, thoughtfully.

“I don’t know… Maybe we’re afraid we’ll lose control?” I suggested.

“Maybe…” she looked thoughtful, not satisfied.

We discussed it for a while, this thing about grace, and how desperately we need to hear it, and how hard it is to tell without serving it wrapped in the condemnation of hell fire, with no real answers.

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This got me thinking a lot, lately, about why we feel we have to do that, serve the Good New of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, like that. As though His death and sacrifice are not convincing enough on their own, and a little fear of hell is necessary to get people saved.

Even writing this, I presume, somewhere, there will be those who gasp and wonder if I no longer believe in hell. If you must know, nothing has changed. I still believe there is a hell. But it is Jesus I worship, not my belief in any particular heaven or hell. Those are the mysteries of God that we are forbidden to fully understand. And there is a time and a place to tell of both, but not every time, and not every place.

Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all (mankind) unto Me.” He did say, “And don’t forget to tell them about hell. They’ll want to know about that place, because heaven with me is much more appealing.” He simply said that lifting Him up would draw all people to Him. Some will still reject Him, but He will invite and draw them. He doesn’t need the motivation of missing out on hell as a ‘bonus offer’. He is enough. More than enough.

And that is what I’ve been thinking, a lot. Whether the most revealing truth in all of this is that we don’t really have faith in Jesus as being enough, on His own–when He is lifted high and worshipped–to draw people to Himself. And if we have trained ourselves, or been trained, to serve grace, wrapped up in fear of hell, because we have not had a true revelation of Who Jesus really is, and exactly what He came to do. And, out of a lack of revelation, we don’t trust the Good News of Jesus to be enough.

In reading through the New Testament, I found Jesus spoke frequently enough of hell. But He seemed to reserve it for the religious–and leaders in particular–rather than for evangelism. And maybe we’ve had that part backwards….

And I wonder if the greater purpose of our knowledge of a place of everlasting torment ought not to propel us into telling the Good News, sharing the wonderful stories of Jesus, and lifting Him up, rather than using it to instil terror in people.

I understand that it isn’t possible to tell people what they are saved from, if we don’t first share that sin has consequence and brings separation from God. That sin cannot stand in God’s presence. And that is why Jesus died.  But that’s a different thing than preaching for thirty minutes–out of a forty-five minute sermon on grace–about the horrors of hell. (Or going over time so it gets properly explained.)

The world is full of condemnation and shame. Hardly does it need that message more passionately reinforced and expounded on, than the truth of grace and Jesus having paid in full, for their sin.  Or even expounded on every time we talk about grace.

Grace.  A free gift that will wipe all that sin away with one simple act of repentance by faith.  So simple. So profound. And therefore hard for the human mind to grasp…

****

I opened the email….

“Dear Trudy,

I have thought a long while about emailing you.  It is fear, I suppose, that kept me from it.”

She went on to tell me her story, as most people whom I’ve never met do, when they  email me ‘out of the blue’ like that.  She lives in USA, and was raised in a conservative Christian family. Abused in early childhood, and sexually active with other girls since long before she understood the meaning of sex, she struggled all her life with sexual addictions. Now, an adult, trying to live our her life of faith in holiness, she battled these same struggles and addictions at every turn. Was there any hope for her? Or would I simply judge her, condemn her for her sins, and turn away? She said she would understand if I did. It was how she felt about herself. Like so many  others she wrote, “I didn’t know who else to tell… I hope I can trust you with my story.”

I sat down to respond to her familiar message. If I had seen this message once, I had seen it countless times. And if I had believed in the healing of one, I would believe it for a thousand more.

“Dear Clara,” I wrote back. “Thank you for trusting me with your deepest pain, your story and your struggles. You need to know that you are not alone. There is hope. And I believe in your healing.”

I shared how I had worked with many women caught in pornography and addictions. Many with same-sex attractions or relationships. Many who had come hopeless, and found freedom through Jesus, even breaking free from same-sex desire, breaking sexual addictions and self-harm, and other struggles. I assured her that God’s grace was more than enough to cover her sins, to free her from the strangle-hold of addictions, and break the power of childhood trauma. Repentance for our sins brings freedom from its grip. Offering forgiveness to those who sinned against us brings freedom on another level.

That was pretty much my message. I offered no condemnation. No scolding. No reminder that she would be condemned if she did not repent of her current sins and addictions. Her email was filled with self-condemnation. There was no need for me to add to it.

Her response made me weep. “Dear Trudy, Thank you. I don’t know what else to say. Somehow I expected to be condemned. For the first time, in a long while, I feel a glimmer of hope that I can be free….”

That’s what grace does. It offers hope where there is hopelessness. Life where the spirit has died. And the promise of reconciliation with God, where sin once stood in between. All because of Jesus.  And Jesus, alone.

© Trudy Metzger

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Super Hero Versus Jesus

Tina Turner had it right when she wrote, “We don’t need another hero…” but that’s the extent of my agreement with her. The lyrics go badly wrong, from that point on. She goes on to say that ‘we don’t need to know the way home’.

Truth is, we really don’t need another hero. We don’t need another great name to pledge our allegiance to. Most of us have idolized enough great men or women and, in the process, some of us have become disillusioned when we discovered they were imperfect after all.

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There is something within us, as humans, that tempts us to look to other humans  who have attained, or seem to have attained, a level of perfection that we long for. We see them, and it gives us hope–even if only an illusion–that there is potential for us to attain that level of holiness, popularity, wealth, or some other greatness that appeals to us. We reach constantly for that ‘something’ that we perceive to be the answer to our own emptiness.

Not only do we become disillusioned when these great men and women prove to be less than we believed them to be, but we also become discouraged when we discover we are not able to achieve that ‘standard’. We lose trust in our ‘idols’ and confidence in ourselves, and as our hope fades we slip into despair.

That ‘something’ within us, that longs for perfection, is not a bad thing. We were, after all, created for perfection. We were created to run about, carefree and naked,  without the cares and troubles that sin–and more specifically, the knowledge of good and evil–have introduced us to. We were not created to carry the burden of knowing good or evil. We were only supposed to know God intimately, without the ‘stuff’ of life, and these struggles imposed on us by the sin we chose.

We can only long for that which we have either experienced, or were created for, just as we can only hunger for food that we have tasted, or crave that which our body was designed for and is lacking. In that way the desire to attain perfection is our inner spirit crying for what should have been ours.

But we forget that what we lost through sin, cannot be restored through the same effort that brought sin on us in the first place. It was independent determination that got us into this mess, but it won’t get us out. We cannot undo what Adam and Eve chose in the Garden–and what we choose continually–to indulge in good and evil, rather than pursuing the heart of God, and knowing Him intimately. To try to redeem ourselves through independent determination, in an attempt to make ourselves good, whole and accepted, will land us in the same alienation from God.

But we chase after idols and reach constantly for another hero–someone to rescue us from ourselves and our emptiness. Really, though, we don’t need another hero. We just need to know the One Hero who was perfect. The One who not only knows the way home, but is the Way home. The One who already paid for our imperfections, making us perfect through His death and suffering.

The answer was uncomplicated in the Garden–trust God and walk in obedience–and it is uncomplicated now–accept Jesus as the only way to be restored, whole and accepted by the God we defied.

What if we stopped looking for heroes, and allowed Jesus to live through us? What if we were like Him, each of us, a hero willing to suffer, willing to lay down self, willing to sacrifice, willing to fight to the death for others? Would it not transform us? Transform our world?

© Trudy Metzger

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Spiritual Abuse Part 30__Redemption’s Journey: Jesus, I’m Coming Home! ….Continued… (2)

I found a pay phone and dialed my parent’s number. It rang… and rang…. and rang. I waited and tried again.

“Hello.” I recognized my youngest sister’s voice.

“Hi Martha, it’s Trudy.” I explained my situation and wondered if anyone would be willing to come pick me up. I had no place to go.

“I’ll talk to them. Call back in about an hour and I’ll try to have an answer.”

Time passed slowly as I paced in the cold. I wandered back to the office where the ‘small but mighty’ officer worked. She was still on duty.  Back outside I lit another cigarette.

An hour passed. I called home again. Martha answered. Yes, they would come and pick me up, as long as I promised to keep some basic rules.

  1. No jeans or slacks at home, only dresses
  2. No swearing
  3. No smoking
  4. No alcohol

I agreed to the rules, as long as the dresses didn’t have to be ‘Mennonite’, but would have to come home in jeans. It was all I had.

That covered, Martha said I should expect my brother, Cor and his wife Susan to arrive in about three and a half hours. I dreaded wandering aimlessly on the dock, in the cold, but at least I wouldn’t have to spend the night on the street.

Minutes later, while pacing the dock, I met a tall, handsome gentleman with shoulder length blonde hair. He had gentle eyes and a kind smile, I noted, as we started a conversation. He asked a few questions and within minutes knew my story.

“I’ll be here for at least three or four hours,” he said. “Would you like to wait in my truck? We’ll watch for your brother. Or, if you want, I could try to get you across the border and somehow connect you with your fiancée. It’s up to you.”

A twinge of fear. What if he wasn’t who he seemed to be? I took my chances. It was too cold to stay outside. “Since my brother is already on the way, I’ll wait in your truck.  I really appreciate it,” I said.

It was no ordinary truck. The polished exterior told me he took great pride in it.  The inside, more like a high-end mini apartment than a truck, was cozy and warm. He turned on some music.

We chatted like we had been friends for years. It had been a long time since I felt so safe with a man. When Cor and Susan arrived, I was almost sad to leave this new friend behind with nothing more than a ‘thank you’ and no plan to stay connected. God had brought another angel to watch over me.

The ride home was awkward. I had abandoned my family for more than two years with almost no contact. Their lives appeared ‘religiously perfect’ and mine was a mess.

To keep them at a distance, I told them I would be returning to Indiana at my earliest convenience and said that I had gotten married. In my mind I wasn’t lying. We had held a private ceremony at the apartment and said our vows to each other but with no witnesses, no judge, no pastor. Just a candle light pre-wedding ‘promise’ that he had said made us married and gave us ‘rights’, so that I would not feel guilty about our living arrangement. The mind is a strange thing, and so easily deceived. The ceremony worked to remove the guilt.

At home life was relatively uneventful. I mocked religious beliefs and practices, not so much to be antagonistic, but to serve as a defense against any religious indoctrination from siblings. By putting them on the defense, I made it almost impossible for them to ‘preach’ at me.

For the most part I kept the ground rules. But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t go for walks and break the rules off site, or leave home in a dress and change into jeans en route. By walking half way back on our seven acre property and stepping onto the neighbour’s field for a smoke, I figured I was keeping the letter of the law.

For several weeks I lived relatively peacefully with my family, leaving home only occasionally to party with my brother and friends. My fiancée’s truck runs took him to the southern states, making it impossible for him to pick me up.

December 26, 1987, my parents were away, visiting my grandparents for Christmas. A chicken dinner cooked in the oven, prepared by older sisters, and my sister Anna’s boyfriend was visiting from Pennsylvania. The house was clean and welcoming.

Mid-morning my siblings suggested we sing while dinner finished cooking. Most of our family had strong voices and sang beautiful harmony, but I wasn’t into that. I declined. I wasn’t interested in their religious hymns and songs. I was into Bon Jovi, Chicago, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and a variety of other Rock artists.

Someone talked me into joining in. It was only Christmas carols, after all. We sang carol after carol, taking turns choosing songs. I remained disengaged. My youngest brother, Abe, innocently chose a song that had nothing to do with the Christmas season. It was based on the story of the woman brought to Jesus for judgment, in John 8, telling the story of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.

Had anyone else chosen the song, my defences would have been high, suspecting manipulation, but my little brother didn’t have it in him.

As we sang the words, “Neither do I condemn thee….” I realized that it was a personal message from God, to me. Jesus was reaching out, offering me a full pardon for the life of sin I had chosen. My heart was home. I was free.

December 26, 1987, I gave my life to Jesus. Completely. And I’ve never looked back. I struggled. I was tempted. But I made a vow to God and, imperfectly, I have kept that vow.

The following day I broke off the relationship with my fiancée. I embraced the Mennonite culture, and for fourteen years stayed in it, serving God in the culture, and developing relationships that would last a lifetime.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/