I used to wrestle with thinking I should sing more theologically rich hymns, like Before The Throne of God Above or How Deep the Father's Love for Us or something along those lines. But then Roger was diagnosed with autism, just now at almost age 4 is grasping the difference between "yes" and "no" and what they really mean, and it humbled me. If what I want my autistic son, and now daughter, to know more than anything is that Jesus loves them, then what more could I ever want him or anyone else to know?
This is relevant because last week I gathered with a room of people. Some were strangers, some were acquaintances, and others were dear friends. But it was a very beautiful time for me, because everyone was from Mars Hill. I may still write more about our time there, how I believe it was a referendum on so much more of American church culture, but for right now, I just have some very simple thoughts.
It's very painful to come out of something where there was widespread abuse. It's incredibly painful to see the ways I was part of the problem. But what is equally confusing is to have had beautiful, redemptive experiences and known Jesus to become so beautiful and precious in my own life while in that environment. To have seen him do the same in the lives of others, and to serve alongside people who experienced the same thing. What's amazing, truly, is that Jesus worked through us as broken sinners to love others through us, to become beautiful and precious to others. God worked redemption through broken sinners, of which I am foremost.
I sat in that room of people, and realized that so much of my heart has wanted to just put Mars Hill and my 7 years there--who I was during that time--in a "yuck" bucket and move on. That was yuck but I'm moving toward not yuck now. But I can't do that--just as I am already but not yet justified and completely righteous in the Lord, there was both good and bad, beauty and pain, glory and sin at work in my time at Mars Hill.
What just ministered like crazy to my heart was this simple truth: so many people are so incredibly broken in the Mars Hill fallout, yet Jesus has been gracious and tender to every. single. one.
There are a lot of stories after Mars Hill. Some people made lateral moves to other churches, and felt free to quickly move on; others are in churches but just feel wrecked.
Some people are in a church and feel wounded but resting; others have gone from church to church. Still others haven't set foot in a church since the last time they walked out of a Mars Hill location.
Some people were deeply wounded and hurt because of horrible spiritual abuse; others were the ones now horrified at having done the wounding and hurting by spiritually abusing. Many are both. And yet others refuse to see any of it, think it was just a bummer that their workplace and Sunday-place fell apart because of some mistakes being made with the best of intentions.
Some had a horrific experience at Mars Hill, which drove them out, while others only saw how wrong it was after leaving. Others left seeing why God was shutting it down but never felt like being there was anything other than a wonderful, growth filled experience.
Some people are more grounded in the word of God, see him as more personable and identifying in their suffering; others can't even open their Bible, and feel like God has completely abandoned them.
Some people are talking and processing their pain; others can't even say the words "Mars Hill" or even the name of Jesus aloud because it's just too painful.
Some people generally feel peace and gratitude, more certainty that God is a loving Father; others are angry and don't even know if God is real, and if he is, the thought of him being good is enough to make them laugh like barren Sarah.
Some mourned when God shut down Mars Hill; others celebrated. Many continue to experience a mixture of both.
Some people question their denomination and theology; others question their Christianity.
Some people wonder why God let them believe and do such things; others wonder if Jesus is even real because if we were he wouldn't let such atrocities be committed in his name.
People run the gamut in the Mars Hill aftermath. Perhaps you, dear soul, find yourself in places in those categories, or beyond them, which, deep in your heart, terrify you. Perhaps you are scared to admit what you think, deep down. Because if you admit it, it's real. And if it's real, how can you go on? How can you even bother getting out of bed tomorrow if you think and feel these things?
Oh, how I pray this ministers to you:
In a room full of people who have learned and lived the Gospel, the Good News Gospel of Christ giving his life to us and dying for us so that we may freely live and then have eternal life with him after death, do you know the one thing that collectively brought every soul in unison?
It wasn't a theological treatise on the problem of evil. It wasn't a scriptural foundation for how God works good through even the darkest of sin and suffering. It was not a pep talk on learning from our mistakes. It wasn't even, "Hey, at least we're in this together." It certainly had nothing to do with what we can learn or how to respond in a "godly" way.
No. It was a sentiment I have myself said and heard others repeat over and over and over.
A man who is a deeply respected teacher, a man who could teach for days on deep theological precepts and truths of God's word, a man who you would never think could say these words, stood on the stage as one every person in that room looks up to and respects, and he said this*:
"I have found myself questioning everything I have ever believed. There are a lot of things that I used to be certain about that I'm no longer certain about. The recent pain and confusion has stripped away a lot and made things much simpler.
Now, I’m only certain of this:Jesus loves me, this I know.
That’s all I have. I’ve been surviving off of that."
And you know what? Just about every head in the room nodded. Some heads were low, others held high. But inasmuch as I could tell, every person in that room was right there with him.
If you are there, you are not alone.
If you can do nothing beyond get yourself out of bed and scrape through the days, just hoping against hope that one day you'll experience joy and life again, you are not alone.
If you are showing up at church and smiling to cover the fact that you don't even know how to be at church, you are not alone.
If Mars Hill was your family in the way that no church has ever been and you experienced grace there, you are not alone.
If you feel like Mars Hill destroyed any hope you could ever have that church could be a place of family, you are not alone.
If you have experienced joy and grace and actually are so thankful for the way Jesus has led you post-Mars Hill, you are not alone.
If your relationship with Jesus is different in a beautiful way and you can't believe the way he used such a disgusting mess to prove himself to be so precious and real to you, you are not alone.
If you know it's wrong but you just want nothing to do with Jesus, you are not alone.
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No matter where you are, no matter what you are experiencing, you are not alone. Because regardless of the fact that out of thousands and thousands of people then some other former Mars Hillian is probably in a similar place, you were never alone. Jesus LOVES you. He is with you. He has been with you.
I repeat: You were never alone. You are not alone.
Why? Because he loves you.
So then that is my prayer for you, for me, for every person hurt and disillusioned by the Mars Hill mess. And not just Mars Hill, but every other person hurt by the church and/or Christians. My prayer is that you will never be able to get beyond this, for the rest of your life, never "mature" beyond it:
Jesus loves me, this I know.
And that, dear soul, is all you need.
*Edited; I ran the words by the man who said them and this is a better reflection of what he said, and, I think, so much more beautiful than my paraphrase!