My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story: Conclusion

After giving my life to God, I was always on the lookout for tools to share my faith. I didn’t feel I was particularly good at this part of the Christian life, and I thought it was because I hadn’t yet found the right method. Enter Paul Coneff and The Hidden Half of the Gospel.

Paul  conducted a week of prayer at my church in the spring of 2012, and after just the first night, I knew his message was special: I sensed it might even be the missing link in my life and ministry, this “hidden half” of Jesus’ story. So, what was it? And how, if I’d been in church almost my entire life, had I missed it?

Lindsey HH Cover MasterThe Hidden Half of the Gospel

Paul began his presentation with a question: “What did Jesus do more of while on this earth: Teaching or healing?”

Healing was the obvious answer. Then Paul asked, “Why have we [churches and Christians] reversed Jesus’ model of ministry? Why do we do more teaching than healing, when he did more healing than teaching?”

He continued, “Now let’s say that I am sitting in my office and I am studying for a sermon. Some church member comes in and says, ‘I have been struggling with guilt and shame from an abortion.’ Is it easier to turn to that messiness and brokenness of her life, or is it easier to do a Bible study on the character of God? Give her some scriptures on forgiveness and say, ‘You know God has forgiven you,’ pray with her a thirty-second prayer, and walk away. Which is easier?”

His point? Many churches, and Christians, don’t know how to handle messy problems like this one (other common examples being pornography addiction, abuse, eating disorders, infidelity, and cutting ), so we don’t–meaning we don’t offer the help so many people need. He went on to prove his point with a concept he calls the “cycle of sin-and-forgiveness.” Many Christians come into the church and get forgiveness for their sins, only to fall back into their patterns of sin. Then they ask for forgiveness, but continue to sin, again and again and again. (In my own experience of praying with women, I’ve also seen a pattern of wallowing in guilt over past sins that the person is no longer committing.) Paul continued. “Why is it that so many Christians who have accepted the ‘good news’ of Christ still are not free?”

family-fighting
Photo Credit: Peacefulparenting.com

I was riveted. Exactly! I said to myself, remembering how my parents had been wooed into the church with lots of good information and had gotten baptized, only to leave our family scattered and scarred by an affair and divorce (see parts 1, 2, and 3).

For the first time, I saw my problems standing stark naked in church, and I was desperate to know: How can the church address these issues?

The Hidden Half of the Gospel is how Paul addressed them. This is a message I would come to know well when Paul later asked me to cowrite his book of the same title.

Two Pillars

There are two pillars to The Hidden Half:

lies
Here is a worksheet that can help you identify the lies Satan may be planting in your mind. I was able to recognize which lies applied to me because they were “thoughts” that ran through my head on a regular basis.

1. The root of our sin and suffering is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). This concept of roots is huge in Paul’s ministry. As Paul explained, all our negative behaviors and patterns are merely fruits of deep-seeded roots, or lies, planted by Satan. We cannot fix the fruits unless we first attack the roots. Thus, healing begins by identifying the Satanic lies driving our behavior. Once we know the roots, or the lies, we can take those to Jesus and let him deal with them, which leads to pillar 2.

2. The root of our healing and freedom is Jesus, our Suffering Messiah (Luke 9:22; Rev. 5:5; Col. 2:15; Isa. 53). The suffering of Jesus is the crux of The Hidden Half of the Gospel, and the key to our healing.

As Paul explained, many churches have overlooked this crucial aspect of Jesus’ gospel, instead choosing to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death and resurrection take care of forgiveness of sins, but often merely believing in and accepting these concepts doesn’t resolve suffering, or the cycle of sin-and-forgiveness. Putting “suffering” back into the definition of the gospel, as Jesus explained it to his disciples (see Luke 9:22), offers hope to those of us stuck in suffering—depression, abuse, addiction, etc.—because it means Jesus didn’t just nail our sins to the cross, but he also nailed our suffering there, as well. The Bible tells us Jesus “suffered and was tempted in every way” that we are tempted, to offer us help when we suffer and are tempted (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16).

Why Jesus Had to Suffer

Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html
Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html

“Have you ever thought about why Jesus’ story had to be so gory?” Paul asked the audience.

I really hadn’t.

“Well, think about it.” Paul continued. “Jesus was abandoned; betrayed; physically violated; shamed and humiliated; and verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically abused. Now, do you think He understands the pain that abuse victims feel? Does He understand when a parent abandons a child? Was He ever tempted to numb His pain?

“He suffered all these things and more so He could identify with us. So that he could understand every way we are sinned against, and every form of self-protection we develop in order to numb our pain.

Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).
Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).

“What’s more, he suffered these temptations  and triumphed over them, which means that when we take time to connect our stories with Jesus, to pray and meditate on what it means that he suffered for us, and became sin for us, we can experience his victory.”

By this time, I was hooked. I wanted this in my life. I wanted a ministry that was relevant to the suffering I’d experienced, and that which I saw all around me.

So I signed on for Paul’s seven-phase, thirteen-week discipleship program. That’s right. A thirteen-week program. This wasn’t any “quick fix.” It was going to be an intense period of praying on a consistent basis, first for myself (to get more healing in my own life before I was expected to pass it on–a requirement of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries) and then for others. I was going to learn at the feet of Jesus (and the seat of Paul Coneff) for an extended period of time, sort of like the first disciples, before I set out to make more disciples.

Discipleship, Small-Group Style

Paul (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.
Paul Coneff (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.

Paul spent the next four months with five of us, discipling us—praying with us, and training us to pray with others. And not quick, clean, thirty-second prayers. These were deep, messy prayer sessions that first asked Jesus to identify our negative roots, and then helped us connect our stories to Jesus’ story. It didn’t end there. We delved deeper, praying, “Lord, what else do you want me to know about these roots in my life? What blessings or barriers are there in these areas?” The prayers were recursive, connecting our stories to Jesus, then having us stop and listen to the Holy Spirit so he could take us one layer deeper into our negative roots. Always, by the end of the prayer sessions, which dredged up long-buried hurts and often tears, Jesus revealed blessings, too. He always brought to mind His promises to combat the negative roots our praying was churning up.

Our training ended, with the goal being that we would start more small groups in our church, beginning with a few men and women, hopefully to grow as disciples multiplied.

My Gateway to New Life at Home, at Work, and in Ministry

My life intersected with Paul Coneff’s message and ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, when I was at a crossroads in my life. I was coming up against the age of thirty, and was finding that pursuing my “chosen” path, graduate school to become a professor, was leaving me feeling empty. Here’s a summary of how God has since rerouted my plans through this life-changing prayer ministry.

Facing Remaining Negative Roots

tree roots
Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

First, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me to be honest about areas in my life that weren’t all healed yet (some of which are still in progress) such as:

  • Anger at the premature loss of my childhood family and, well, my childhood.
  • Resentment at my husband’s happy family (and any happy family).
  • Disillusionment with my church and religion because it “did not help me” in my time of crisis. Straight 2 the Heart helped me to see that my church didn’t help me because it didn’t know how—also, because I didn’t let them know I needed help in the first place. (It also provided the answer for how churches can help, when they have the right tools.)
  • My pattern of trying to control my life in my own strength so it would never get out of control again (or my attempts to never repeat my past depression, suicide attempts, broken family, etc., through over-planning, becoming over-busy, and more).
  • My avoidance of having kids out of the above need to maintain control.

Gaining Deeper Healing 

Second, Straight 2 the Heart has led to more healing for those negative roots in these ways:

  • The decision to let go of the “safe,” but wrong career path of academia.
  • The decision to finally pursue the identity God has for me, which has translated into sharing my story through writing and even teaching. This blog, my memoir-in-progress, and Paul’s and my forthcoming book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, are all examples of me sharing my story for God’s glory.
  • The decision to have a baby.DSC_7783
  • The decision to be honest with other women, to reach out and accept relationships I had avoided but desperately needed (See my post “Friends in High Places”)
  • I am gaining more appreciation for my church as I look past its flaws (every church has flaws) and see the human beings there. Since deciding to be vulnerable with my own story, I’ve connected with many of these dear people in meaningful ways.  I am getting the authentic “fellowship of believers” experience I missed as a child, when my family was intent on covering up its problems.

Taking the Next Step in Ministry

S2Hlogo
Photo Credit: Cristina Coneff

Third, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me learn how to have a really relevant ministry, or how to help others who are stuck in negative places and patterns like those I’ve suffered. (It is through making Jesus’ gospel relevant to the everyday struggles of life—boldly connecting our messiness to Jesus Christ’s suffering and his full gospel to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”)

  • My partner in prayer ministry, Amanda, and I, prayed two new young women (now dear friends) through the thirteen-week prayer process, which helped lead them to lots of healing—and baptisms in our church!
  • Amanda and I also trained women at a neighboring church to facilitate the same thirteen-week prayer and discipleship process in their congregation.
  • With the help of Amanda and Mary, our other cohort from our initial 13-week training, I facilitated a third prayer group, consisting of around ten ladies, in my home for several months last fall. This group resulted in amazing healing for many of these women (for marital, parental, and other common problems) as well as facilitating much needed connection between these lovely, but often isolated church ladies.
  • Now I am working on rendering the miracles we saw in these women willing to be honest with one another and with God into the closing scenes for my memoir. I want my story to testify to how one changed life can ripple out to other lives, and still more lives from there. This is what discipleship is all about.

Now, what I’ve left out of my rebirth story (and there’s lots I’ve left out), I am working on telling in my memoir. Why did I call this my “ugly, messy” rebirth story? If you consider a real birth (and I’ve been considering it a lot lately), it’s a messy process. It’s no small thing when a new physical life is created—and the same is true for a new spiritual life. The creation of a life, and the re-creation of a life, are not simple or easy processes. At times they are painful, ugly, and messy—but to get to the birth, or the rebirth, they are necessary. That’s why I have unapologetically included the ugliness and messiness in my story—along with its beauty. Without either, my story would be incomplete.

 Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4      Read Part 5    Read Part 6

To read more about The Hidden Half of the Gospel, see the following articles Paul and I wrote on the subject:

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 1

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 2

To schedule Paul to speak at your church or to facilitate a discipleship group, contact him at www.straight2theheart.com.

And if you want to get a copy of our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, follow this blog to be notified later this spring when the book is published!

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My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 6

Photo Credit: "Friends Talking" by Lusi
Photo Credit: “Friends Talking” by Lusi

One surefire way to tell you’ve been “reborn” is the desire to share your faith with others. On the other hand, if the idea of “sharing your faith” turns you off or even terrifies you, that’s a good sign you haven’t been reborn. For most of my life, born “Christian” though I was, that was my experience: I didn’t know what to share, and I didn’t know how.

After my “Damascus Road Year” (see part 5), for the first time in my adult life, I had abiding joy and peace, which led to faith. Finally, I had something to share. Now, I just had to figure out how to share it.

In the four years since my conversion, I’ve decided we born-again Christians can share our faith in two ways: implicitly, and explicitly.

Sharing Faith Implicitly

First, we can share our faith implicitly by living out our new identities in Christ. If we’ve truly been reborn, then our daily lives—our habits, our behaviors, our interactions with others—will naturally witness to Jesus Christ, because we will be emulating him. If we are following Jesus, we will not be living like the rest of the world, and people will take notice.

For example, after my conversion, my public high school students started to ask me questions about my faith, even advice about faith-related matters: “Why don’t you drink?” “Why do you go to church on Saturday?” “What do you think about marriage?” “How can I make my boyfriend see that prayer is an important part of the Christian life?” These questions came without me explicitly stating my beliefs—but I didn’t need to, because my behavior showed me to be different from most of the other teachers.

Sharing Faith Explicitly

Second, we can share our faith explicitly in a variety of ways, depending on our personalities. Note: This form of sharing does not come in a “one-size-fits-all” box. Unfortunately, some churches, preachers, and Bible teachers, try to make us feel like witnessing should look the same for everyone, thereby making some of us (i.e., those of us who don’t fit the traditional mold) feel like failures before we’ve even begun.

Two years prior to my conversion, I was the victim of one such discipleship training that was intended to prepare me to give Bible studies at the end of eight weeks. But after eight weeks, I was no more ready to give Bible studies than I’d been at the beginning, for two reasons. One: I hadn’t yet met the Lord personally (though I was active in my church and looked “good” on the outside), and two: the type of ministry wasn’t right for me.

The first fatal flaw of the training was that it didn’t show me how to have a personal experience with Christ before asking me to spread that experience to others. To its credit, the training frontloaded the concept of preparing our hearts for ministry. The speaker said we should deal with our own baggage before we try to minister to others—but she didn’t really explain or model how, exactly, I was supposed to rid myself of that “old man”—AKA my baggage. When I began the training, I was still depressed and self-centered, and it’s pretty hard to testify to Jesus’ redemptive power in that state of mind. Unfortunately, after the first night, it was assumed we were ready to learn how to “share our faith” with others. And that brings me to the second fatal flaw.

Photo Credit: "Hands on West Africa" from imbstudents.org
Photo Credit: “Hands on West Africa” from imbstudents.org

This training only presented one way of how to share my faith, as if that were the only way. I don’t want to unduly pick on my religion, but since it’s the one I know, it gets to be the example. In the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, the ol’ standby for sharing faith is knocking on doors and offering Bible studies. For Adventists, and probably a lot of other Christian religions, Bible studies equate to a series of topical handouts that progress through our beliefs by way of Q and A—with plentiful Bible verses listed to help answer the Q’s.

Let me be clear: I don’t think these studies are bad. I think they definitely have their place, especially for those who are completely new to the Bible. But when it comes to sharing my faith, these studies do not appeal to me. That’s because I did not personally or experientially come to know Jesus through these types of studies, and I find it hard to believe that others could, either (though I’m sure it’s happened).

When it comes to explicitly sharing our faith, we should choose a method we can be passionate about; it’s important that we honor our personalities, choosing and using a method that speaks to us. If you’ve found the Lord and are excited to share him, yet you’re still not sure how to do that explicitly, learn from my experience. Perhaps you just haven’t stumbled upon the right method yet.

Bible Study Bummer

When it came time to start my “explicit” phase of ministry, I knew who I wanted to reach out to—my friends and peers from church—but I didn’t know how. After a lifetime in the Adventist church, the only thing I could think was traditional Bible studies…so that’s basically what I did.

Now, I didn’t start with our prefabricated lesson studies, which usually progress through a series of doctrines. I wanted to focus more on the heart, because I believed that, more than head knowledge, my friends and peers needed a heart experience with the Lord—or what I’d recently found. So, I picked a book about having a heart experience, John Dybdahl’s Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul, and made study guides for our meetings. My heart was in the right place, but my approach was wrong.

Photo Credit: "Small Group Bible Study" from manuscriptBiblestudy.com
Photo Credit: “Small Group Bible Study” from manuscriptBiblestudy.com

I had designed the studies similar to my high school handouts, complete with fill-in-the-blank answers. That’s a good way to short circuit good discussion and sometimes independent thought. As for prayer? By now I had somewhat of a vibrant personal prayer life (it involved a lot of writing to God in my journal), but I didn’t know how to facilitate really effective public prayer. So I duplicated the format we used at church: I asked for praises and then prayer requests. We went around the circle, said our praises and prayer requests, and then one person prayed, thanking God for the praises, listing the requests, and asking God to guide the study. It was a fine prayer, but it wasn’t going to result in hearts being transformed.

Despite my ineptitude, our Bible study consistently drew a crowd. I could tell my friends enjoyed coming (was it because I fed them?); and I even made some new, dear friends. I wasn’t running a particularly great study, but God brought blessings out of it (and therein is a lesson). However, after a year and half, I wanted something better. I’d read Trish Ryan’s Christian memoir, He Loves Me, He Love Me Not, and her small group was, as I read it, much more effective than mine. She wrote of things like group intercessory prayer that resulted in many heart conversions. It was then that I began to feel like a failure in ministry—and had my “Unexpected Breakdown” (check out what happened in this post that got me freshly pressed).

After two years of being on fire for the Lord, I burned out. After giving so much to my friends and to the church, I felt bankrupt myself.

Now about to finish a master’s degree and no longer sure I wanted to pursue a doctorate (would spending so much time in grad school be to bypass another calling the Lord had for me?) I needed to find strength again. I also needed (but didn’t know it) more healing for the roots of my former depression.

In the conclusion, learn about the prayer ministry that not only helped me heal, decide to have children, and decide to change career courses, but also taught me how to witness “straight to the heart.” It is the same prayer ministry that laid the groundwork for Writing to my Roots.

 Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4      Read Part 5

Are Your “Roots” Showing?

tree roots
Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

I’m not talking about your hair color, though we often get hung up on the outward appearance. I’m talking about what’s on the inside: or those beliefs you hold at the core of your being.

Last weekend I hosted about ten women at my house for a mini women’s prayer retreat, and we talked and prayed about how the negative beliefs we hold are responsible for the negative behaviors in our lives. In other words, your problem of overeating, undereating, cutting, criticizing, worrying, etc. is the “fruit” of a deeper “root.”

As Jesus said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:43-45). He’s saying that any fruit cannot grow without a root first in place, because the one flows from the other.

My co-author, Paul Coneff, likes to further explain this concept with the “toothpaste test,” which stipulates that if a tube of toothpaste is strawberry, well, when it gets squeezed, nothing can come out but strawberry paste. In other words, whatever beliefs are rooted in our hearts—whether positive or negative—will eventually come out.

To see an example of the “fruit/root” principle, or to watch the “toothpaste test” in action, just get close to someone for a little while, settle in, and watch. Listen to what inadvertently pops out of their mouths when they get stressed. I’ve observed that even if people aren’t trying to be confessional, they end up confessing a lot more than they think (and this includes myself).

Recognizing Common Roots in Women

Writer Patricia Garey, in her book Beautiful Woman, talks about how mothers inadvertently send negative messages to their daughters about beauty and self-esteem when they make passing comments like, “Oh, I can’t go out without my makeup,” “I have to get rid of this extra flab,” or, “I wouldn’t be caught dead without [fill-in-the-blank].” What do these seemingly trite remarks say about the beliefs rooted in their hearts?

I know a lovely woman who will not go out in public until she has “put on her face.”

“I can’t be seen like this,” she chirps to her husband if he ever asks her to run to the store on a Sunday morning—even if just for a quick “in and out” errand where she will only be seen by the cashier. To go out for that sixty-second errand first must entail an hour’s preparation.

After I learned about the fruit/root principle, I asked myself: “Is this behavior just a quirk, or is it the symptom of a deeply seeded negative belief, perhaps, ‘I’m not acceptable just the way I am’? or ‘I need to hide who I really am’?”

I know another woman, well respected in her teaching job, who clearly has some insidious negative beliefs rooted in her heart. Because she doesn’t have a college degree, she feels inadequate, or “less worthy” in some way. Clearly, by the passing or side comments she makes under her breath, such as, “I’m so dumb,” or “Well, you’re better qualified for that,” or “I just wish I could really do something that would make a difference,” she believes in her heart that she is not good enough. Usually these comments come in the context of talking or hearing about someone else’s achievements, whether in the area of career, health, or other. I’ve heard many people say she is the best teacher they’ve ever seen, but sadly she won’t believe it.

I wonder how many of us have that problem. How many of us have deeply rooted negative beliefs about ourselves that everyone around us would disagree with? Sometimes no matter how many times we hear truths about ourselves, we refuse to believe them. But how quick we are to blow one negative comment into the gospel truth. If that’s so, then we can know we have some negative beliefs rooted in our hearts.

Recognizing My Own Roots

Tonight begins a thirteen-week women’s prayer group with a few good women who are willing to honestly examine those false beliefs in their hearts and let Jesus uproot them, replacing them with His truth. I’ve been through this process twice in the last year, and each time God reveals more roots I need to deal with.

Some of the easiest roots to recognize when I started a year ago were those depressive thoughts that used to define me: thoughts like “Life sucks,” “I’m a loser,” and “I will always be this way.” I have now recognized those thoughts as lies and renounced them in my life.

uprooted tree
Photo Credit: “Toppled–Uprooted” by Tacluda

Next, I faced the following slew of lies—and these, I realized, were protections I had developed to try to fend off any more depression (or my old roots): “I have to try harder and do more,” “I have to control things,” “I am responsible for making my life into something meaningful.” After prayerfully asking God to search my heart and try my thoughts (Ps. 139:23-24), I realized these, too, were lies from the enemy. I still battle some of these lies, especially when I slack in my prayer life, but this battle is getting easier.

As I begin a new prayer group, the new lies I am battling sound something like this: “I have worked through my issues, and therefore, I have arrived.” “I am better than others.” “I don’t need to spend so much time in prayer anymore.” Wouldn’t you know it, even when we reach a spiritual high, Satan can use that to slam us some more—usually this is when the “pride” lies begin.

So today I am praying about pride, and asking the Lord make me feel my desperate need for him once again. I have confidence that as I spend time with him every day, he will once again reveal his truth. In the meantime, before I can feel it for myself, I am taking him at his word that I can do nothing without him—I am choosing to believe that to remain fruitful for him, I must remain in him—I must remain in the Vine (John 15). That’s because I never want to be ashamed for my roots to show; and I always want my life to produce positive fruit (Gal. 5:22).

What fruits and roots are showing up in your life today?

 

(Note: If you liked this post, check out the preview of the book Paul and I wrote, and sign up to follow this blog so you can read more about fruits and roots when our book is published.)