Are You a Pharisee? Surviving Religious Burnout Part 2

How to Get Off The Spiritual Treadmill

My new mini-book, Surviving Religious Burnout, Launches Tuesday, August 4. You can pre-order it now on Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble. I wanted to give you a preview so here is an excerpt from Chapter 1.

Video Version

For the next few weeks I will be posting a video version of my blogs. Going to try this format out to see how you like it. So below is basically this same blog in video form. Let me know what you think. Should I keep doing this?

Have You Eve Met a Pharisee?

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

The Religious Rut

Have you ever met someone who is proud to be a modern-day Pharisee? Probably not. Most well-meaning believers are unaware they have slipped into a religious rut that resembles legalism. Their good works look like a thriving faith, but the roots are different. Without making a change, those stuck in this Christian performance trap will see their excitement replaced with exhaustion.

The Spiritual Treadmill

You can only run on this spiritual treadmill for so long before you realize you are going nowhere. The frustration of always moving but never arriving is enough to cause anyone to become discouraged and give up. 

Ask any of the millions of joggers in the world, and they will tell you running is not just meant to be work. Running should refresh you as you experience unexplored placed and familiar ones in a new way.

It is the same with your faith. Christianity is not an exercise in discipline. It should be an enjoyable, meaningful experience. 

It Is Not About Good Works

The Christian life should produce good works. It is not about good works. It is about knowing God and making Him known. Your good deeds are only sustainable when they come from an overflow of your love relationship with Jesus. When your position in Christ comes before your performance for Christ you are on your way to a refreshing life as a believer.

That is the point of this book. I want to help you get out of your spiritual rut and into an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity. To do this, we will have to dig up the roots of burnout. After that, we will plant seeds of truth that will lead to a flourishing faith.

What is Religious Burnout?

Religious burnout is a cycle of gaining your worth and security as a believer from what you do for God, instead of who you are in Christ. Some people may call it legalism. Others refer to it as being a Pharisee. I see it as a pit any of us can fall into on the path of good intentions.

A Christian performance trap will wear you out. It will ask more from you than God does. In return, it causes you to become judgmental and never feel content as a believer. True holiness is rooted in your connection to God, not your commitment to rules or your religious performance. Following rules may change your appearance, but only a love relationship with Jesus can transform your heart.

We all want to get the most out of our relationship with God. That is why you need to escape the Christian performance trap and take part in true high-performance Christianity. 

So what do you think? I would love to hear from you about this topic as well as if you think I should keep doing youtube videos on my posts.

I would love it if you cheked out my new mini-book on Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble. It helps tremendously if you leave a review. After reading this post you definitely qualify as a reviewer!

Remember the Candlesticks

Misconception: Grace Is a Get Out of Jail Free Card

*What you are about to read is Chapter 3 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free when you subscribe to my blog. This is the last week you can get it for free. After this, you can get it amazon in paperback or kindle.

Going to Prison

I don’t have much experience with being arrested or going to prison. At least not that I would like to share at this time. I am just kidding. I’ve never been put in cuffs or had to ride in the back of a paddy wagon. I have unfortunately been pulled over for speeding.

Seeing the blue lights in your rearview mirror is one of the worst feelings ever. When this happens, you can try to argue, but you know you are guilty and without an excuse. Most likely, you will get fined with a ticket. On top of that, your insurance will go up because you are now a certified menace to society.

Every now and then, you get #blessed, and the officer lets you go with a warning. Although you broke the law, you’re let off the hook. That’s not only a good feeling but usually makes for a great story as well. It’s not possible to escape getting a ticket and not tell someone in the same way it is impossible to vacation at the beach without posting in on Instagram. There are certain laws to the universe that keep things together, and these are two of them.

My absolute favorite example of being caught red-handed and still being allowed to go free is from Les Misérables.

A Criminal and a Priest

 Jean Valjean was a homeless criminal when he shows up at Bishop Myriel’s door. Consistent with his nickname, Monseigneur Bienvenu (which means welcome in French) accepted Valjean, feeds him, and gives him a bed for the night. This behavior towards an outcast sounds like grace to me.

How does Jean Valjean repay the good Bishop after receiving this undeserved favor? He steals most of his silver and vanishes into the night.

When no one else would take him in, the Bishop did, and Valjean returns the favor by taking his most valuable earthly possessions. Man, that’s cold enough to make even Elsa shutter.

Later, as he is trying to leave town, the police discover the silver in Jean Valjean’s bag. He claims they were given to him by the Bishop, but the police know better. He is then captured and returned to the church for the truth to be discovered. At this moment, we see how far grace will go to love the unlovable.

An Act of Grace

When the police tell the Bishop that they found his silver in Jean Valjean’s possession, they were probably expecting him to thank them. That is not what happened. Instead, the Bishop tells the police he gave the silver to Jean Valjean. He even goes so far as to chastise Valjean for not taking the silver candlesticks, the most expensive of all the silver, as well. The unexpected beauty of this scene is overwhelming.

The Les Miserable musical quotes the Bishop this way,

“But my friend you left so early, Surely something slipped your mind, You forgot I gave these also; Would you leave the best behind?”

Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Miserables

With the police now gone, and Jean Valjean given yet another chance at freedom, Monseigneur Bienvenu leaves him with these words,

“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man…. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Miserables

Jean Valjean was not given a mere chance to escape. He was granted an opportunity to become a new man. The real gift of grace is not that it gets us out of jail for free, but gets us out of our old identity for free – when we least deserve it.

This act of grace from the Bishop transformed Jean Valjean from a slave of sin into a slave of righteousness. The darkness in him was transformed into a light for others by the goodness of the priest.

This is what should happen when we accept the price Jesus paid for us on the cross.

Grace is Not a Free Pass

Jean Valjean might have received the silver for free, but it cost Bishop Myriel significantly. You see, grace is not a free pass. It’s much more than that. The beauty of grace is that it exchanges the priceless for the worthless so that which was once without value can become priceless itself. 

Jean Valjean had received grace when he was given a place to stay when no one else would accept him. That alone would be a great picture of how God welcomes us when we are unacceptable. But how do you explain the Bishop forgiving the theft after such a tremendous betrayal? And then giving him even more silver – his best pieces?

The Motive of Grace

The gift of the candlesticks shows us the motive of grace. God does not want us just to go free; He wants us to be free to be who He created us to be. Grace doesn’t stop giving until it brings out the giver in us. It is a light that pierces the darkness in us until we begin to shine as well.

The goal of grace isn’t to help you escape condemnation, but rather to transform you into a person that no longer desires the things that will lead to condemnation. Grace does not just set you free; it makes you new.

By every observation, Jean Valjean had earned his punishment. And while I’d like to see myself in the priest, I’m afraid it’s Valjean I identify with most. His number as a prisoner in the story is 24601. I think about that number often as a reminder of the fate that awaited me without grace. I was 24601, but now I am a son.

Like Valjean, we have all sinned, and therefore earned the wages of our evil deeds.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Romans 6:23

When we sin, we earn death. It is like going to work and getting a paycheck. The only difference is this is not a paycheck you want to cash. Death is the “reward” for our efforts of sin.

Grace is different.

The difference between grace and guilt is that one is earned and the other is a gift.

A Scandalous Exchange

No matter how hard we work, we will never be able to earn grace. Like the Bishop in Les Misérables, God gives it to us freely. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t cost him something. In fact, providing us with grace cost God everything.

When God sent Jesus to die in our place, he bankrupt heaven to pay our fine. He didn’t just give precious silver to redeem our souls. He gave His only Son. If Jesus was just a good man or a wise teacher, this would have been a tragedy, but He was much more than that. He was perfect in every way. Every intention, motive, thought, attitude, and action on his part was pure, yet in response, we gave him the most horrific death that humans have ever conceived.

God came to give us life, but we gave him death. Jesus healed the hurting, gave hope to those in despair, fed the hungry, and accepted the rejected. Our response was much like Jean Valjean’s. We, in turn for his acts of kindness, betrayed him with the cross. 

God left the beauty of heaven to make a way for us to join him there, and we respond by giving His Son the cruelest death imaginable. This may have always been God’s plan of redemption, but what does that say about us? More importantly, what does it say about Him that He loves us anyway?

I think it means He gives us grace, not as a get out of jail free card, but as an exchange. He wants to take slaves of wickedness and turn them into sons and daughters of righteousness.

You Can Never Have Too Much Ice Cream

Misconception: Grace Is All We Need

*What you are about to read is Chapter 2 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free just a couple more weeks when you subscribe to my blog. After that, you can get it amazon after that in paperback or kindle.

Running to Extremes

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s true with queso and ice cream, as well as religion and grace.

When you have experienced too much of one thing, the temptation is to swing to the other extreme. Balance is the more appropriate response.

This pendulum swing is especially a problem for me because I am a man of extremes. For me, balance is going in every direction at full-speed at the same time.

Too Much Ice Cream

Have you ever noticed it becomes more socially acceptable to eat giant portions of ice cream at an ice cream parlor compared to someone’s home? They can scoop a whole pint onto your cone after you wait in line for it and no one bats an eye. Ask for more than one scoop after dinner only if you want people to be known as someone with no self-control.

On one of my first trips with ARC, there was a Ben-n-Jerry’s Ice Cream shop across from the hotel where we were staying. I did not know such a place of wonder existed. I thought Ben-n-Jerry’s decadent treats were only available in tiny proportions from the grocery store freezer section. 

This was different. Mere footsteps away from my room was all the ice cream I could ever hope for. The unending possibilities enamored me. I wasn’t on a work trip. I was living in a fantasy world.  The magnetic pull on my heart, mind, and soul – the very essence of my humanity, was undeniable.

There was some talk of going there after dinner, but I could not wait until then. What if by some travesty the group changed their mind and decided to go somewhere absolutely horrible, like a fat-free yogurt shop, instead? I was not willing to roll the dice and take such an unwarranted risk. So, I quickly unpacked, and then walked across the street to indulge in cold, creamy goodness before our meeting.

Now I could have gotten one scoop, but that would almost be an insult to Mr. Ben and the great gentleman that is known as Jerry. So, I got two scoops. One was a marvelous mound of peanut butter cup and the other a refreshing ball of mint chocolate chip. I couldn’t allow these spectacular creations to go unnoticed in a small paper cup either. They needed to be exalted on a pedestal of waffle dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles.

There couldn’t have been anyone happier in a 100-mile radius. I walked down the sidewalk, licking and holding up my hand-scooped gluttony in the air for all to see.

I had gone overboard for sure, but I wasn’t finished yet.

The group did decide to go to Ben-n-Jerry’s after our meeting, and I again got yet another scoop of ice cream.

The guilt was too much for me, and so I confessed my sugary sins to one of my co-workers. After telling him of my previous trip to the ice cream shop, he said, “Sounds like you have a problem with balance.”

Finding Balance

You see, dedicating myself to eating broccoli for the rest of my life would not have solved my problem, because eating ice cream was not the issue. The real problem was that I was not able to enjoy ice cream in balance.

If you have come out of a controlling home or rigorous religious environment, then you may think that rules, religion, and commitment are the problem. Maybe you think grace is all you need.

If this is the case, then adding grace will not cure your sickness. You will just take grace to the extreme you once took your religion, rules, and commitments.

This was a temptation for me once I realized I had become out of balance with my religious commitments. Was grace all I needed?

Grace and Truth

The answer to that is as simple as looking at Jesus.

The Gospel of John has an excellent description of the Son of God:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

John 1:14

The only thing we really need is Jesus. He came in grace and truth. This is important because, in a day and age in the church when people are pitting grace and truth against each other, we need to understand that God put them together in His Son.

Grace and truth work together, not against each other. A lack of either would be the equivalent of a bird with only one wing. No matter how much you focus on making that one wing stronger, without the other, you are just going to crash and burn.

We can’t sit on the beach and eat ice cream all day, or we will grow overweight and unhealthy. We need moments of refreshing but should also remember our mission. God wants us to enjoy life, but life should never become about ourselves.

We need grace, and we also need truth. We need refreshing and also refocusing. The key is to find balance. Going to any extreme is simply unhealthy. 

When Grace Is a Dirty Word

Misconception: Truth is all we need

*What you are about to read is Chapter 1 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free for the next few weeks when you subscribe to my blog. You can get it amazon after that in paperback or kindle. You can read the introduction in last week’s post.

A Five-Letter Word

Grace is not a four-letter word. In fact, it is a five-letter word. What does the number five mean in the Bible? You may be surprised to know it is symbolic for grace.

When God used David to do the impossible and slay Goliath, it was with five stones in his pocket. This great victory was given, not because of David’s effort (this would have been impossible), but as a gift from God. With grace, we can do things in God’s strength we could never have accomplished with our own ability.

One of the simplest ways to define grace is the gift of God’s favor. So, if grace is such a wonderful gift, then why is it sometimes treated as a dirty word?

Explaining Grace

What I mean is, why do we sometimes feel like we have to quantify grace, measuring it out in small amounts before giving it away, so people don’t run away with it? One way we do this in conversation is by using the word grace and then explaining everything we don’t mean. Have you ever had a conversation like that? For a long time, I couldn’t talk about grace without assuming the person I was talking to could be thinking I was talking about “greasy grace.”

Another example of this is when we use the word grace when teaching and then add a “but” to turn the focus back to our works. For example, “God freely gives us grace, but we need to commit, meet the standard, live up to expectations, etc.” When we do this, we treat grace like a dirty word we have to clean up to make sure it doesn’t create a mess when we give it to others. 

Do we do this because others have “abused grace,” or are we abusing it by not giving it away freely? When we do not freely give God’s grace away, we abuse it just as much those who use grace as a license to sin. No matter how good the intentions might be, it starts people off on the wrong foot. I am convinced this makes our message man-centered instead of God-focused. 

Getting Puffed Up

I didn’t always believe this. I had to go through a transformation that was sparked by a lack of grace. I remember one time saying, “I would rather aim to be too holy and be wrong, instead of too grace-filled and be wrong. At least when I get to heaven, God won’t say, ‘Josh, you were too holy down there! You shouldn’t have worked so hard to please me!’”

Man, how wrong was I! What I thought was something God would never say is exactly what He already said in His word:

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”

Ecclesiastes 7:16

Well, there it is! I had destroyed my life by pursuing truth to an extreme while undervaluing my need for grace in the process. Without grace, you can be out of balance and become puffed up. This cycle leads to becoming critical, competitive, and eventually too discouraged to keep going.

Here is a New Testament example of the same principle:

“…We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”

1 Corinthians 8:1

Seeking only knowledge puffs up, but embracing God’s love, builds up. I want to build up my faith; not puff it up.

Again, it is not the pursuit of truth or knowledge that is wrong (or puffs up). We get in trouble when we forsake our first love and believe grace is only intended to start our race and not carry us to the finish line. Ultimately, getting out of balance with grace will lead tp depending on our effort instead of God’s finished work.

Nothing separates us from God like pride, and that is why we need to rely on His grace continually.

God’s Gift

Maybe the idea that grace is a dirty word is a foreign concept to you. This is probably true if you are from a spiritual background where grace is something that is celebrated. But even if that is the case, it could be possible you are not taking advantage of all God’s grace (the gift of His favor) has to offer in your life. In that case, grace has become a dirty word, and you aren’t even aware of it.

We need to fully unwrap this wonderful gift God has given us to cause or lives to shine the brightest for Him.

Greasy Grace and Sloppy Agape

Grace Is A Dirty Word Part 1

*What you are about to read is the introduction to my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free for the next few weeks when you subscribe to my blog. You can get it on amazon after that in paperback or on Kindle.

Avoiding Grace

I used to think grace was a dirty word. It was something that needed to be explained if you were going to talk about it. Sometimes it was avoided altogether when sharing from the stage, so no one got the wrong idea about the kind of Christian I was.

Have you ever felt something similar about grace? Maybe your church culture focused on holiness, standards, and truth to such an extreme that it made talking about grace a little uncomfortable. For many, this is a foreign concept. But those stuck in a performance-oriented faith will know what I mean.

If your first assumption when you hear someone talk about grace is they are making an excuse for compromise, or if you don’t know what to do with the idea of grace after salvation, then I encourage you to continue reading.

Greasy Grace

One of the reasons I considered grace a dirty word, is because I thought people who celebrated grace were out of balance. It seemed they only used the word to justify a life of sin. If you didn’t love holiness as much as I did, then you probably practiced “greasy grace.”

Where did the phrase “greasy grace” come from? I don’t know, but it sounds like something that leads to all kinds of slimy wickedness and makes the devil grin.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked grace. I just didn’t know what to do with it. I thought too much of it was unhealthy. I guess it was like spiritual ice cream. It tastes good, but too much will give your soul a bellyache. I celebrated God’s grace at the moment of salvation, but things got confusing after that.

I didn’t want to be guilty of taking advantage of grace in the same way an older kid may con a younger one into trading a valuable baseball card for a handful of throw-a-ways. It was almost like I was approaching grace in a guarded way as not to accidentally take more than I deserved. The assumption here is that at some point, I could earn what I had.

There was no “Sloppy Agape” for me at the theological dinner table. I’ll just have a little grace by myself after dinner when no one else is around. Because let’s face it, whether we want to admit it or not, we all continuously need the grace of God. We may not want to give it out and may even publicly warn against getting carried away with, but we’re all counting on it being there when we need it ourselves.

Abusing Grace

The lack of the grace of God in my life caused me to live exhausted and hurting. I was also a drag on others. The impossible standard I was trying to maintain meant I was not good enough for myself, and neither was anyone else. I felt it was my duty to keep everyone accountable and to maintain an external religious rigor that was tearing me up inside. I was God’s hall monitor of truth. That guy may feel like he has more power than anyone else but usually sits alone at the launch table. #persecution

In reality, I was abusing grace by not taking advantage of it, which is something that probably did make the devil grin.

Grace became this dirty word that made me feel like I was not grateful to God. I felt like I was disrespecting God every time I needed forgiveness. Something God had given me for my benefit became something wrong to use.

Fuel for Our Faith

Eventually, I was honest with myself and admitted avoiding grace wasn’t working for me. I wondered, “Why don’t I pursue it a little bit and see what happens?”

Taking this first step was when the magic started, and it is why I wrote this book.

Many of us begin with grace but leave it at the start of our race. As a result, we become discouraged before the finish line. We can’t make it through this marathon of faith if we think grace is a dirty word.

In this book, I share eight common misconceptions about grace. Most of these come from my own struggle to embrace grace along with a few other observations I have made along the way. I hope they all help you run your race well.

You can subscribe here to receive a free copy of Grace Is A Dirty Word..

Your Opinion Matters

I need your help.

I’ll cut to the chase. Would you mind taking a moment and writing a review for my book Shipwrecked: A Journey to Discover Authentic Faith? With so many self-published books available the only thing that separates the good from the not so good are the reviews. This month my author rank on Amazon has gone from over 500,000 to 80,000. This is for all authors, and is a big jump. I’d like to take advantage of any momentum to help get this book in the hands of people it can help.

It would mean so much if you could take a couple of minutes and write a quick review by clicking this link: Write a Review.

But what if I haven’t read the book? Can I still write a review?

Here are three answers:

  1. Yes, you can always buy the book, and then write a review. Posting a picture or verifying you have read the book in your review is enormous! It is available in paperback and e-reader version to make it easy to get in your hands. Click here to purchase.
  2. Yes, you can write on a review based on being a reader of my blog even though you haven’t read that particular book. Again, this helps legitimize the book for those who do not know me.
  3. Yes, I will send you a free copy if you do not have it in your budget to buy the book and you would like to read it. I do not want money to be an obstacle. Use the contact me form on my blog to request a free copy (include your email address), and I will send you a digital version with no strings attached.

That last one is a big deal because I have never made this book free. I have worked hard on it and believe it is worth purchasing. I also don’t want anyone who wants to read it to not to be able to if they are interested.

You can find out more about the book here.

You can purchase the book here.

You can write a review of the book here.

I would appreciate your help in getting the word out about this short story that is written to help anyone who has experienced or wants to avoid a shipwrecked faith.

Acres of Hope

Finding Hope in the Midst of Heartache

by Amy Roberie

It’s August 2012, and it seems as if my worst fears have materialized. Homeless. Jobless. Sickness. Loneliness. Loss. Heartbreak. All of these words are accurate descriptions of my new life. We made a major change and left our ministry positions, and all that went along with them. In many ways we were on “top of our game.” This decision would be one that few people in the world we left behind understood and many on the outside couldn’t identify with.

A Valley of Heartache

Homeless – We lived with my parents and leased our house to tenants so that we could keep paying our mortgage.

Jobless – We planned to move and go immediately into another ministry role in a new city. After wise counsel, we decided to spend a season outside of vocational ministry to detox, rest, process, and heal. We made this decision a few months after our transition. By this time, we had spent our savings. This meant moving in with my parents and Josh just taking whatever job he could to bring some money in. This season turned into two years, and I spent those two years at home, something I had not done up to this point in our married life. 

Sickness – During this same time, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and died less than six months later. I held his right hand, my Mom held his left, and my Aunt Cathleen talked of Jesus as he took his last breath on earth. 

Loneliness – Every relationship we had revolved around one place and one group of people. It felt like I moved to a remote, foreign country that was separated from civilization by oceans and 15+ hour plane rides. There was no internet or phone service in this new country. In reality, I was down the street. My address changed, but I was in the same city with the same phone number just fewer texts and calls.

Loss – I think in one way or another, we lost everything. At best everything changed, but mostly there was loss. Loss of friends and relationships. Loss of home. Loss of security. Loss of position. Loss of identity. 

My heart was broken in this season in what felt like every way. No area of life was spared. It was in the midst of this heartbreak that Lamentations 3 became my daily anthem. It both reflected my current heart ache and loss and also shined a glimmer of light on what seemed like an endless night.

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
 Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.

 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

Lamentations 3:19-24 NLT

Dare to Hope

Yet I still dare to hope….” I sat at the kitchen counter of my Mom’s house with Daniel Tiger playing in the background keeping 19-month-old Sophie entertained and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as I read it again and again. Suffering and homelessness, bitterness, grief and loss, every word summed up my current state. “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this.

My tears were still flowing, but a warmth began to fill my heart. God was still faithful. Even when I’ve lost everything, He is faithful. I decided that morning that the Lord would indeed by my inheritance and that I would hope in him. Even if my situation did not change, I had an eternal inheritance in the Lord and nothing and no person could change that. Everyone and everything could go wrong and let me down, but God is faithful, and because He is faithful, I can place my hope in him. 

Before this, hope was foreign to me. There were two common words in the “Christian Language” that I was somehow not literate in – hope and grace. This was the beginning of my journey with hope. Hope means – to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; to believe, desire, or trust.

My hope in God and God alone meant my desire was Him. My confidence was in Him. My trust was in Him. I didn’t need a home or a job or people or any circumstance to change. I only needed Him. In fact, I learned that my heartache had become the catalyst for me discovering hope and ultimately discovering God and His nature in a whole new way. As Hosea puts it, my trouble became my gateway to experiencing hope.

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.

Hosea 2:14-15

The Message paraphrase says, “I will turn heartbreak valley into acres of hope.” Today, I pray that whatever you are facing that the very heartbreak that should otherwise destroy you will become a gateway for you to walk into a spacious and wide-open acres of hope. 

Amy works at ARC, helping pastors start new churches across the country. Her heart is for women to find their true identity in Christ and become all that God intends for them.
You can follow her on Instagram at @amyroberie.

Dealing with Difficult People

How to Reverse the Momentum of Unfair Treatment

The Shimei in Your Life

Do you have a Shimei in your life? You may not know who this is but chances are you do. Shimei is a minor character in the story of King David who represents the difficult people and circumstances that can get under our skin. Why does there always seem to be difficult people hanging around our lives?

Who is Shimei

Shimei showed up when David was fleeing from Absalom. David was once again on the run for his life. While suffering through this betrayal Shimei does his best to kick David while he’s down. Technically, he threw rocks at him while he was down, but you get the point. He was David’s difficult person of the moment (he seemed to have several).

David tried to take the high road with Saul, but this family member of the former king wasn’t satisfied. He falsely accused David of things he didn’t do and publically humiliated him. Shimei treated mistreated David. He never tried to hear David’s side of the story. He could only see the world through his own hurt and disappointment. He taunted David when he was most vulnerable even though David did everything he could to treat Saul and his family the best he could.

There’s Always a Shimei

Have you ever encountered someone like this? Some people are just determined to see the worse in us despite our best efforts. Most of us deal with difficult people at one point or another. It feels like they never give us a chance or even proactively try to turn others against us. Like Shimei, sometimes a previous hurt is clouding their perspective. This can be a tricky shadow to step out of once we are in it.

There always seems to be someone like this in our lives. They show up at school, work, church and sometimes in our family as well. If it is not a person, then it is a circumstance that can become a sort of thorn in the flesh. It can be a daily irritant. How do you respond in moments like this?

Praying for Shimei

I often pray that God would remove these kinds of people from my life. “Lord, help them find their next season as quickly and as far away from me as possible!” I have even prayed, “Lord, expose this wolf! Let their true character be known!”

At the time, I thought I was being generous with my prayers, but I sure hope there isn’t anyone out there praying for me like that! Of course, this is better than responding in the flesh and giving difficult people a piece of our minds. This is exactly what David’s men wanted to do. In fact, they wanted to kill Shimei. David wouldn’t let them though.

He wondered if God had allowed this burden into his life. Would God even turn Shemei’s cursing into a blessing?

The Blessing of Difficult People

I usually don’t have the emotional intelligence to respond the way David did when facing unfair treatment from difficult people. But maybe David was on to something. I have heard pearls are formed only after an irritant enters the oyster. Something painful things have to get under the skin of the oyster before something valuable is created. Is it possible God continues to allow Shimei’s in our lives to give us the opportunities to produce pearls of great value as well?

This is certainly what happened in the story of David and Shimei. David didn’t seek revenge when Shimei treated him unfairly. Then when he was on his way back to the throne, Shimei was there to greet him. Instead of throwing stones he brought 1,000 other men to welcome David home. God blessed David’s response to Shimei by not removing this one adversary but by giving him 1,001 advocates.

Pearls or Problems

Difficult people can produce pearls or problems in our lives. How we respond determines whether we will get rid of a problem or receive a multiplied blessing. We can’t avoid unfair treatment entirley. If it is not a person, then it will be a set of circumstances that are refining our character. Responding correctly does not always bring immediate results. We can’t control how others will react. What we can do is determine to see all the people God brings into our lives as pearls instead problems.

 

I’d love to hear from you. What do you see in this story? How can we better deal with the difficult people in our lives? What resources have helped you overcome unfair treatment? Leave a comment or send me a message on social media.

Benefits of Critics

4 Reasons to Listen to Your Critics

Many people say to ignore your critics. Don’t listen to them they say. Once during a wedding prayer of blessing, I actually prayed that the bride and groom would, “shake the haters off.” For some odd reason, people haven’t rushed to ask me to pray for them at their weddings after that.

I don’t know that this advice is always good. Sometimes I think we say “ignore your critics,” as a way to insulate ourselves from some tough things we don’t want to hear. This can lead us to even mistakenly identify people who are trying to help as people who are hurting us because they are sharing difficult truths with us.

But what do we do about the actual critics – the people who we can’t make happy no matter how hard we try? Is there anyone like that in your life? What do we do when folks keep getting drunk on the “haterade” or seem to always pull into work in their Navi-hater.

There are secret benefits of having critics, fault-finders, and unwelcomed commentators snickering behind you. All the greats had them. I don’t think you can stand for something worthy without having someone stand against you. If you turn to scripture instead of cultural expectations in your response to critics, you can tap into the benefits of those that seem to love to hate.

4 Benefits of Critics

Listen

Our friends are often hesitant to share things they know we may not want to hear. This is because they want us to like them. They keep our feelings in mind. Critics don’t care if you like them. They are not interested in our emotions. In some small way, this can be a good thing if we pause to ask ourselves if there is a grain of truth in what is being said.

We may not always agree, but we can always listen. Listening is a way we can show that we value people even when we may not agree with what they are saying.

Learn

Critics can broaden your appeal when we learn from their perspective. Maybe their attitude is wrong. Perhaps they have an agenda. But maybe we can also learn how to better reach someone with their outlook on things next time before they even become a critic.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” We should be looking to win people over and not just win arguments. We can’t do this if we do not slow down and learn from those that are different than us.

Lean-in

Suffering through some unfair criticism can cause us to lean into what matters most. It can hurt when we hear someone doesn’t like our idea, perspective, or well-intended actions. This can also give us the opportunity to evaluate if we are living for the approval of God or others.

We don’t always get to respond to our critics. At times we have to turn the situation over to God. In these moments, we are able to draw closer to Him and reflect the grace and mercy we have received from Him.

Don’t Linger

While we can learn from critics, and at times should even listen to them to build future bridges, we shouldn’t linger there. Some criticism offers a lesson in letting go and moving on when things are outside of our control.

We shouldn’t allow criticism to be a focus. If we are always concerned about avoiding critics or responding to them, then there is no time to just be who God made us to be. Doing the right thing at times will be criticized. It’s not always fair, but most of the time it is best to keep loving and moving forward.

Give them what they lack

I used to be an extremely critical person. No one or nothing was good enough for me. I realized along the way that my high standards were keeping me from enjoying the people God gave me in my life. Since then, I have started offering more grace to people. I have noticed though, that the last person we are willing to give grace to is the judgmental among us.

Why give mercy to someone who doesn’t show it to anyone else? Because that is apparently what they are in most need of because they don’t have any to spare. Give grace to your critics and over time their cup may eventually overflow and begin to refresh others as well.

Burned Out on Church?

5 Books to Read if You Are Burned Out

Your church should be a place that refreshes you and gives you the opportunity to refresh others as well. Even in the best environments we can get caught up in what we are doing and lose sight of the why behind it. In general, it’s just a good idea to take time to refresh your soul. If you find yourself in this place, or maybe you have given up on church entirely, then here are five books that may encourage you from those who have walked through similar experiences.

Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases by Peter Haas

The name gives you a good indicator of what you can expect from this book. It is irreverent, hilarious, and packed with insightful research and biblical clarity on healthy and unhealthy church culture. I was surprised by how much I laughed out loud reading this book. It’s a good thing it keeps you chuckling because the smiling provides an excellent anesthetic for the heart surgery that will take place as you read this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning

Someone asked me recently what my all-time favorite book was. This is definitely a contender for first place. Rich Mullins credits the message of this book with changing his life, but only after first resisting it. This was the same for me. I came across this book for the first time over 15 years ago, but my religious mindset at the time caused me to reject it. I sometimes wonder if exploring this book then may have saved me a lot of heartache. On the other hand, the lost time has only increased my appreciation for this simple message of grace.

In this book, Brennan artfully confronts the destructive falsehood of manmade religion with brilliant strokes of grace. It is tweetable, readable, and utterly unforgettable. It is packed with stories of brokenness and redemption, including his own. The Ragamuffin Gospel is a balm to any broken heart that desires more of God and less of man-made religion.

Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

Toxic Faith could be a textbook in a class on how to recover from church burnout. It takes a spiritual and psychological approach to revealing the cause and solution to a toxic faith, as well as church burnout, in a believers life. If you are interested in a Christ-centered and psychological approach to understanding how to get out of a religious rut, then this book is for you. Toxic Faith has given me the language to discuss ministry burnout and how to recover from it more than any other resource.

Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey

This book took me completely by surprised and redirected my life in a path of healing and grace but not before helping me confront my own religious pride. Philip Yancey is without a doubt, my favorite Christian author. Scratch that. He is my favorite author. In this book, he discusses how 13 unlikely mentors who, starting with Martin Luther King Jr., helped restore his faith in the church after growing up in a racist fundamentalist church in the South. His access and background as a successful journalist give him a unique approach and delivery on this subject.

A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by Gene Edwards

If you want to serve in ministry leadership in any capacity, then you need to read this book over and over again. It has more one-liners and zingers than just about any other book on this list. It is also the shortest and probably the easiest to read. It is a parable following the stories of David, Saul, and Absalom, that will help you identify healthy leadership and the unhealth that is in your own soul. A healing and enjoyable read.

Bonus – Shipwrecked: A Journey to Discover Authentic Faith by Josh Roberie

I decided to write this book after reading somewhere that there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction. From that idea, I wondered how I could share the emotions that surround the struggle of breaking away from religious pride and finding authentic faith in the humblest of circumstances. I wanted to weave together a journey that was enjoyable to read and also included the gems of truth that have helped me find enjoyable and meaningful Christianity in my own life. In Shipwrecked, I use an allegorical parable of a sinking ship to tell a story, loosely based on my own, of finding healing and hope after experiencing religious exhaustion.

What did I miss? Comment with your favorite book on this topic. I’d love to check it out!