Key Life - Summer 2021 Magazine

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BIG Answer to a Dumb Question

I Left Legalism!

...They Didn't Approve

Mental Illness

And Why We Stink at Handling it in the Church

Wolves in the Church Distorting the Good News. Selfish Agendas. Useless Rules.

You by Steve Brown


Wolves in the


Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). There are wolves in our midst. They by Steve Brownwho hate are not the unbelievers the church or the sinners whose disobedience hurts the reputation of the church. Those wolves aren’t the heretics either or those who get their theology wrong. All of those people can create problems, but the wolves I’m talking about are those who have the reputation of godliness and, unfortunately, have believed their own PR. That alone is bad enough, but they don’t stop there. They fleece the lambs of God (that would be us), looking down their long spiritual noses with their peacock feathers flying in the breeze and saying things like, “After all that Jesus has done for you, one would think you would [you can fill in the blank]. You bring shame on the name of Christ. Jesus said that our works should indicate who we are, but your works for him leave much to be desired. Have you considered that you may not be saved?” Then if you are “building an empire for Jesus,” you take up a collection. In the book of Acts, when Paul was on his way to Rome, where he would face some major trials and a good possibility that he would be executed, he asked the leaders of his beloved church in Ephesus to meet him on the dock at the harbor in Miletus. Everybody was aware that this could very well be the last time they would meet together and there are lots of tears. Paul said to those leaders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to

draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert” (Acts 20:28-31). Who were the “fierce wolves” Paul spoke about? They’re not who you think they are. When we read Paul’s words to those leaders from Ephesus and listen to his warning about the wolves, we have to be careful not to read what he said in our own cultural context and through the lens of our biases. Depending on who we are and what we do, wolves take on all kinds of personae. For Reformed people, it’s those who aren’t Reformed. For Pentecostal folks, it can be those cold, dead Christians who haven’t been baptized in the Spirit. For Anglicans and Catholics, it could be those cretins who don’t understand the importance of the liturgy and the power of the sacraments. For the legalists, it’s the people who are using their liberty as license. For liberals, it’s conservatives; and for conservatives, it’s liberals. Those who are orthodox are sure that the wolves are the heretics and the less orthodox are sure that fundamentalists are. Most of us think that the wolves are people who have compromised the theological and moral standards that have always been a part of the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). As a matter of fact, that’s not the wolves Paul is speaking about at all. Who are the wolves? If you want to know, all you have to do is to flip over to the book of Galatians, where Paul is dealing with wolves. Paul’s fear for his beloved friends at Ephesus was a fear grounded in hard experience. He had been there, done that, and had a closet full of bloodied, wolf-torn T-shirts. Paul didn’t like sin or bad theology, he hated divisions, and he was worried about all kinds of institutional problems . . . but the wolves were different and far scarier. The wolves were those who would pervert the gospel. And at the same time, they were (and are) often those who seem to be the most obedient, the


most godly and the most spiritual. The book of Galatians is often called the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty. Its writing was occasioned by the coming of some very religious, very uptight, and very wrong believers who were scandalized with the message of the gospel. Paul was shocked, and we should be too. He wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Paul was earthy in his opposition to the wolves, and we should be too. He said, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12). (Now that’s strong!) Paul spared no one in his defense of the gospel, and we shouldn’t either. He even pointed out that Peter was a hypocrite in these matters (see Galatians 2:13). Paul refused to join hands and sing “Kumbaya” around the campfire with those who compromised the gospel of grace. And we should avoid that too. Paul said, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Now let’s study Wolfology 101 and look at its destructive power. The basic textbook for the course is Galatians with ancillary readings in a number of other biblical sources. There are four basic truths about wolves that you ought to know. When you see any of these things happening, run. No, don’t run. Fight. Paul said that we should “stand firm” and not “submit” (Galatians 5:1). Wolves distort the good news. First, you should be aware of the MO of the wolves—their disguised, subtle, and manipulative pressure. Paul said that they worked to “distort” the good news of Christ (Galatians 1:7) and that they even manipulated Peter and Barnabas into sharing their hypocrisy (see Galatians 2:11-14). Paul wrote, “Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:4-5).

Wolves have hidden agendas. There is more that you need to know about wolves. You must also be constantly aware of the hidden agendas of wolves. Paul wrote, “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). There is money in religion! And if you do it right, you can get power and prestige too. I have a friend who says that if you make your living at religion, you are going to lose one or the other. If we’re saying something biblical, true, and helpful, it’s a good thing that people listen. The problem happens when we find that we can parlay their listening into power, prestige, and money. It is a short trip from being told that one is very close to God to the feeling that one speaks from Sinai. Empires have been built on far less. When the wolves start laying burdens on the sheep, it’s always wise for the sheep to ask: “What’s in it for him or her? Where is the payback? Am I funding a leader’s dream, or is it God’s dream? Do I worship at a guru’s altar, or at God’s? Am I being set free, or put under a burden of guilt and condemnation in order to make him or her feel better?” Wolves impose heavy burdens on sheep. Paul described what was happening in Galatia as an effort on the part of the wolves to impose a “yoke of slavery” on the sheep (Galatians 5:1). Slaves are not free; their job is to maintain the freedom and the power of the slave owners. That bothered Jesus too. Matthew 23 is enough to make any leader of God’s people wince. Every time I read that chapter, it scares the spit out of me— “hypocrites,” “whitewashed tombs,” “blind,” “killers” of prophets. And the thing that’s scary about Jesus’ words is that they were addressed to the most religious, most committed, and most godly people around. If you’re a leader of other Christians and that doesn’t scare you, you’re dead. But for our purpose here, listen to one of the things Jesus said: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (v. 4). You can determine the “wolfness” of a Christian wolf by noticing how guilty, tired,

and condemned you feel in his or her presence. Religion will make you weird. Do you know why? Because God is such a central part of our DNA. Someone has said that we southerners get away with saying anything, no matter how hurtful or critical, by prefacing what we say with “Bless your heart . . .” Well, Christians can lay on the guilt, rob the sheep of their freedom, send them on a crusade to impact the world, and “turn the tide for God,” all with a prophetic “Thus says the Lord.” That’s why, when new Christians come into the church, we put saddles on them and ride them until they die. And the great tragedy is that our neurotic DNA makes us think we’re doing it for him. Wolves lie about God. Finally, be careful to note the God the wolves would have you worship. They lie about God and sometimes even for what are laudable reasons. Their God becomes a monster and a child abuser. They will preach about his wrath and his jealousy. They tell you he will take away your salvation if you tell a lie (or pick your sin of choice) and don’t repent of it before you die. They will make God into a celestial policeman who is looking for ways to catch you doing something wrong or something that displeases him, and if he does, will break your legs. And the wolves will go absolutely ballistic when someone suggests that you have free sins. Paul was having none of it. In fact, he countered the lies with the truth. He said that he had been crucified with Christ (not a command but a fact for

every believer) “and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! [“daddy” or “papa”!] Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7). They will make you feel like an orphan! The wolves will say that God’s patience is such that, if you continue in your sin, he will say, “That’s it! I’ve had it with you.” God never says that! If you’re still with me, you know the truth that no profound relationship can be established with God until you come to him with nothing to offer but your sin. You also know that the relationship with him is not maintained by your obedience and righteousness but by his grace and Christ’s righteousness. You know, too, that power comes from living an ongoing life of repentance (knowing who you are, who God is, what you’ve done, and then “putting the ball in God’s court” by telling him). Further, you know that until we recognize and proclaim that to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to those who aren’t a part of our family, we will remain in the concrete of our selfrighteousness and the hardness of our prison cells. Anybody who tells you differently is a wolf.

Adapted from Steve’s book, Three Free Sins

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I Left Legalism by Kendra Fletcher and My Family Doesn't Approve by Kendra Fletcher

When (the opinions of those who disagree with you) are being voiced, you have the opportunity to remind yourself (and spouse and kids and friends) that God is already pleased with you. Out of a small book with a big heart has come questions from readers like you. Earnestly trying to figure out this whole “leaving legalism thing,” your struggles are honest and deep, and multi-faceted. Family relationships are rarely simple. We’re left with the question of how to love people when they don’t agree with our choice to leave a rigid church environment, and it’s not simple, because family relationships rarely are. The notion of spending time with family members who ooze disapproval is stressful, disheartening, and a genuine downer. It can leave us feeling like we’ve taken two steps backwards.



Don’t think for a minute you’re alone in this. Here’s just one of numerous notes I’ve received, but I’m keeping this one as anonymous as possible for obvious reasons: “Question for you: When you leave legalism, but have family (my parents) who have not, how do you walk well with them? We packed our bags 11 years ago for the sake of the gospel, have grown in the gospel, but are looked down on because we live it out differently, i.e., enjoy alcohol, smoke a pipe (well, my hubs, not me), friendship with homosexuals, walk with drug addicts—all sorts of very different things from my Baptist roots. "I still feel there are times I am creating a checklist, and making laws for my life, and feel I am doing something wrong (like hubs shouldn’t smoke a pipe, but it’s more because of what my family would

think of him, but Lord knows I am not posting pics on Facebook of that!) Is there a fine line of sharing, and being careful to not offend? I don’t know? But I do get a smack in the head from the Spirit, that I am not resting in the grace and freedom He gives. sigh. "I feel at times my identity is still wanting approval from my earthly father, trying to shake that, but thankful how Jesus is showing me these things! I feel so close to real freedom, and have been away from legalism for awhile, but man those roots run deep!"


I think a lot of us struggle with our identity: Who am I? What is my mission in life? Who am I not? For those essentially rejecting what shaped their childhoods by those who communicated that identity to them, the issue of identity can be especially confusing. Now is the time to stop and define who you are. If you’re still walking in Christian faith, your identity is formed by what God, through Jesus Christ, did for you when he chose to enter our fallen world and put his life on the line for our sake. It’s all his work, his plan, and his unparalleled goodness that we get to claim, through grace. It’s why the video on my site’s home page reads, “Grace will change your life.” At the core of our lives is our identity— who we are—and the grace of God is the all-encompassing formation of who we are.


Now let’s connect the dots between knowing our identity and being around family members who don’t approve of our choices. For those of us who were caught up in legalistic environments, whether by

them, and I encourage you to do so. The critic, or legalist, will of course point out that there are equally passages that talk about God’s hatred for the wicked, and that’s true. But here’s the thing: You are not the wicked. You have been redeemed. You are made clean and pure by the work of Christ. To say otherwise is just really bad theology.


Let’s make this whole discussion about identity and believing the truth about whose you are inform how we now deal with family and friends who don’t approve of our choice to leave their brand of legalism. You’re going to be in situations where your family doesn’t approve of your clothing choices, your food preparation, your current church, your parenting, your job situation, your friends, your hobbies, and on and on. . . When their opinions are being voiced, you have the opportunity to remind yourself (and spouse and kids and friends) that God is already pleased with you. Remind yourself (say it in your head, loudly) that you are loved by God and nothing can change that. Smile outwardly. Usher your kids out of the room. Leave, if you have to. But remember, always remember, that your identity—who you are—is in Jesus Christ, and he is very, very pleased with you. Luke addressed the physical leaving of family in his gospel: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (14:26). Sometimes following Christ means leaving behind the family and life that would have you believe that you must earn your salvation in some fashion, because following Christ means believing the truth of the gospel instead of the pronouncements of legalists. Leaving legalism can be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. A disapproving family heaps guilt and shame tenfold over the guilt and shame we are trying to leave. But don’t forget Whose you are and what He’s done for you. Remember, now is the time to stop and define who you are.


choice or parentage, the attempt to please man usually takes precedence over a desire to please God. Even if our goal was to please God, we had a mixedup, works-based definition of what that means. The truth is, God is already pleased with us. Because of what Jesus has already done, because of Calvary, because of the cross, because of the faith He’s given to us, God is already pleased. Let that sink in. For so many of us, the idea that we already have won the affection of the creator of the universe simply because His son died on our behalf is a concept very far removed from our law-loving hearts and minds. It doesn’t seem right. In a universe where everything else must be earned, the free approval of God Himself just blows our minds. Take the idea that we can’t reconcile free approval (grace) for ourselves and apply it to our earthly relationships, and there we see how easy it is to assume we must earn the love of God. If my earthly father is disappointed in me, surely my heavenly father must also be. If I have to perform for the approval of the people in my church, surely I must perform for God, too. Again, now is the time to stop and define who you are. What do you believe? Do you believe Jesus when he declared that he had finished all the work there was to be done when he hung on the cross and took our sin into his death? Do you believe that God takes delight in you? His Word tells us as much: Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (ESV) Isaiah 62:3-5 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (ESV) There are so many more verses and passages that tell us how God delights in us. You can search and find and dwell on


Carrot in the Hunting Rifle by Alex Early


Nicodemus was an educated man who held incredible power in his religious community. His knowledge of the Scriptures surpassed everyone around him and he would’ve been considered a model citizen in every way. Yet, there was Somebody Else on the scene. Somebody Else was turning heads because he was turning water to wine. The Apostle John tells us Nicodemus “came to Jesus at night." We don’t know why he preferred to talk with Jesus in the dark any more than we recognize the face of the man in the moon. But that’s just what he did. Perhaps he didn’t want his religious friends catching him talking to the odd Rabbi from a backwater town? Or maybe Nicodemus wanted an uninterrupted conversation and so he had to wait his turn like everybody else. Or maybe he felt like he could only be his real self and ask real questions of Jesus when nobody else was looking. Have you, like

Nicodemus, ever gone to Jesus in the middle of the night and asked your question? Not to church… Not a book study… Not a conference… Not a worship song… Have you ever gone straight to Jesus in the middle of the night? Though Nicodemus was steeped in the history of Israel he was still keenly aware of the fact that he could no more comprehend the mysteries of God than you are or I could contain the Pacific ocean in a Dixie Cup. So in his curiosity, he pulled himself out of bed and went to Jesus. John writes, "This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.'” – John 3:2 I imagine if you or I had an audience with Jesus that night we

asked how to be born two times!” There they are, the words are out there, naked, half-baked, standing there like a scarecrow. Jesus explains that there is the kind of birth that every mother does. And that there is another birth that is brought about purely by the work of God alone. Those two words; You see, in saying “you must be born again. They born again,” Jesus was taking all either mean everyof the worry, the power, and the thing or they mean striving out of Nicodemus’ hands, nothing to someone. saying “You don’t have what it takes to be born again in and of through to the question behind the yourself.” Just as your mother labored to bring you into the world question. Jesus knew that what at zero cost to you and incredible Nicodemus was really asking was cost to her, so it is with God. You “Will I get to see the kingdom of are the passive recipient of Divine Heaven, too?” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, Grace. God is the One who brings about your birth from above. One I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of moment you were not and the next you simply were. Why? Because God.” – John 3:3 God reached out, and reached “Ye must be born again.” Those within, and gave you a new heart, two words; born again. They a new mind, a new life, a new pureither mean everything or they pose… a new you. What motivated mean nothing to someone. We God to do something so extravasee them on a homemade sign in gant, so over the top, so undethe end zone of a football game. served for Nicodemus or you or me Sometimes they’re slapped up on or anyone else in this world? an overpass amidst all the graffiti. Jesus said, “God so loved the Sometimes they’re on the moniker of a Missionary Baptist Church out world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever would in the countryside somewhere. believe in him would not perish but Born again. When Jesus said the words “born again” he wasn’t com- have eternal life.” It was out of the blazing furnace of the love of God’s ing up with another way to say “evangelical.” He was putting a car- heart that you have been born again and once you are born, you rot in the hunting rifle. Nicodemus doesn’t get it and asks cannot be unborn. This is what the Apostle Paul stressed more than how a person can be born twice. anything to his Ephesian brothers Do you ever have those moments and sisters – the incomprehensible when you’re talking and as you’re love of Christ. You belong to the saying the words, you wish you Father, through the purchase of could reach out and grab them and take them back? I imagine that the Son, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Amen. must’ve been what Nicodemus was thinking in this moment. “I just would’ve said something along these lines, too. “It’s clear that the signs you are doing must be accompanied by God himself!” But Jesus who knows Nicodemus’s whole life story and your life story, abruptly responds piercing



The Mental Illness Boogey Man

Why Is It Wrong?


There’s an actual heresy mixed up in the belief that mental illness is a spiritual, not physical, issue. Gnosticism is a complex, weird belief system, condemned centuries ago. But, the aspect of that heresy I’m thinking of is where we see the physical as evil, and the spiritual as good. This isn’t what the bible teaches. Let’s say we get a goiter the size of a baseball on our neck. We think, ‘oh, something’s wrong with

my body, I should see a person who deals with physical things for a living.’ We see our body, rightly, as a physical thing, with physical needs, and we treat it that way. But, we think of our thoughts as part of our ‘real’ selves. The so-called spiritual side of us that rides around in this evil, lemon of a flesh-car. So, it doesn’t matter how many times we hear about things like chemical imbalances, genetic abnormalities, or other physical causes of mental illness. We often can’t get past the idea that anything brain-related is purely spiritual, and can only be dealt with by God (which usually ends up meaning untrained pastors, religious life coaches, our really holy friend Jennifer, and demon caster-outers). Because we think of the physical world as evil, we expect goiters and heart attacks. But, because we equate our minds/thoughts with the spiritual world (which we think of as purely good), any suffering there must be a test, or, worse, a punishment.

Why Do We Still Believe It?

You might wonder why a hurtful, neglectful, and often unloving way of handling an entire group of hurting people hasn’t gone the way of the Dodo. Well, part of it is the cul-




We religious folks have some… let’s call them interesting, ideas about mental health. You get a boo-boo, you put a band-aid on it. You get chest pains, you’re yelling at Martha to call the 911. Yet, if you have a mental condition, you’re told to just trust God. No docs, no medicine, no books on tape. Which leads to a lot of silent suffering and frustration with God. I truly am sympathetic to the pitfalls of the religious system many of us grew up in. I get the blackand-white, too literal, ‘spirit over body’ mindset these ideas come from. As well as why they’re so durn hard to rid ourselves of. So, that means I’m aware that some of you still have your doubts about what I’ve said so far. Fair enough. Let’s discuss.

by Chad West

tural stigma associated with mental health issues. Everything from our politics to our entertainment stinks of our misunderstanding and fear of mental issues. But I think the biggest reason it

If you get a boo-boo, you put a band-aid on it. Yet, if you have a mental condition, you’re told to just trust God. doesn’t change in the Church is that we believe our thinking is the same as God’s thinking. Once we connect our personal opinions to our religious beliefs, good luck getting us to see things differently. It feels like we’re committing a sin if we even think about changing beliefs we’ve wrongly connected to our faith.

What Can We Do?

We’re Not 'Everything Experts'

For some reason, pastors (and I was one, so I speak from shameful experience) think of ourselves as a jack-of-all-trades. As if, by virtue of being ordained, we have absorbed the full knowledge and wisdom necessary to address any and all issues. Whether they be financial, relational, or in this case, mental health counseling, we see ourselves, and are unfortunately seen as, the bestest, most smartest counselors ever. But, none of us, even pastors, are 'everything experts'. There’s a really good chance we're going to hurt someone by dispensing naïve advice. (In the same way as if you were trying to perform, let’s say… leg surgery.) So, another thing we can do is point those in need towards professionals. General goodwill and empathy are great. Pray with them. Give them biblical words of comfort. But then direct them to a mental health professional who specializes in the issues they’re dealing with. The truth is, there aren’t spiritual parts and physical parts. Our bodies are eternal. This Earth is eternal. We aren’t just Caspers riding around in these bone suits, waiting to be freed. All of who we are is who we will be… just eventually without the stretch marks and receding hair lines. Also, without the death, pain, or mental illness.


First, talk about it. Normalize it. Purveyor of decorative crosses and Andy Griffith-themed bible studies, LifeWay, did a study that said about 66% of pastors mention mental illness once a year or not at all. Compare that to how often you hear about, I don’t know, smoking, short skirts, politics, drugs, porn, or social media addiction. We talk about suffering, death, illness, loss, and all other kinds of human maladies in order to give comfort to our congregations. So, considering about 1 in 4 (or roughly 58 million) people, just in the U.S., experience some sort of mental health disorder a year, it seems like a pretty important thing to also talk about (once we educate ourselves,

that is). Which brings me to my final point.


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