Category Archives: The Dirty Gospel

The Dirty Gospel : no fairy tales here

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( To read the entire Dirty Gospel series click here )

When I was growing up,  fairy tales were the stories of choice for me. (Well, fairy tales and Ramona Quimby books) I’m guessing you had a thing for them too. Maybe you loved the hero, the adventure, a villan’s defeat, or the princess who is discovered in an ordinary girl. Personally I liked the talking animals.

This week is the final post in The Dirty Gospel series. I’m only 31 years old, but experience has already taught me that real life reads nothing like a fairy tale. The storylines twist and turn until we are nauseous with fear and anxiety. The battles we face leave us broken, bruised and weary. It doesn’t always end with “they lived happily ever after”.

Obviously Heaven is the happiest ending one could have, but our life here on earth is messy. That is why this Gospel is so dirty. Worn down by the tears of distraught saints and lonely martyrs. Clung to by the addict’s knuckles that are white with fear in hopes that there is indeed One who can see into this darkness and find him.

The cross secured victory for every battle we could face – internal or external.

Jesus didn’t come so that we could have “happy”. He came so that we could have Him. —> click to tweet.

The Gospel is culminated in this one phrase : It Is Finished.

The shame that mocks you. It’s finished.

Hate towards our enemies. Finished.

Fear that keeps you from dreaming. Finished.

Striving for a perfect version of you. Finished. 

Cycles of depression that rob your days. Finished.

Lies that you have a deficit of worth. Those lies are finished.

Death itself? That is finished too.

So many of you responded to Bethany’s story a few weeks ago. The PET scan results came back for her husband this week. The cancer has spread and the tumors have gotten bigger. Real life, real pain. Shootings, suicides, famine, poverty, slavery…so much is broken in this world of ours.

We don’t need a fairy god mother to give us a new dress. We need a Savior who is knee deep in our battles. One who holds us tight when we kick, bite and smell of our vices. A God who talks us down from our ledges and out of our pits.

We may not have our “happily ever after” on earth. Some may die sooner than we would like. Spouses may not show up despite our most bitter and desperate tears. Hope may be deferred and life may not seem fair. There are moments it feels like all Hell breaks loose around us.

But our days are anchored. Securely fastened to a Truth that has survived every pain. Our Gospel is more than living days of isolated happiness. It is an eternal thread that links a heritage more colorful and vast than we can imagine.

The Dirty Gospel hinges on the most powerful sentence ever said. It is finished. And it is.

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Dirty Gospel : The Way You Are For A Reason

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I’d like you to all meet my new friend Jesica. She emailed me after reading Bethany’s story on here a few weeks ago and wanted to share with me her own “Dirty Gospel” tale. I was really inspired by Jesica and am pumped that I get to interview her for today’s post.

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1. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Jesica and I am a 24 year old from Hawaii. I am currently a student at University of Hawaii and I am majoring in art. I was born with an impairment of all four extremities called hypoplasia or phocomelia.

I have phocomelia on my left leg and Amelia on my right. I lack forearms and hands. My femurs and tibias are short with abnormal feet. I get around with the use of my electronic wheelchair. There is no medical reason for why I was born this way, but I know God created me this way for a reason.

2. What is it like for you with hypoplasia? 

Growing up I felt really alone and isolated from everyone because of how I looked. But mainly I felt insecure of myself. I’m ashamed to go out in public because people constantly stare at me, laugh or talk behind my back. I try to ignore them, but it is hard when I can see them doing it with my own two eyes. Most of the time I just try to hide my arms so that they don’t see it.

3. In your email to me you mentioned God gave you a passion for art. What is it that you love about it?

What I love about art is that I can express myself through it. There is nothing like having a blank canvas waiting to be drawn or painted on. For me I like abstract art verses realism because I like having the idea of letting my imagination and creativity go wild. There is no limit in what you create.

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4. This series is called The Dirty Gospel because it is highlighting what it looks like when God reaches down into our places of pain or challenge and rescues us. What has The Dirty Gospel looked like in your life?

I have had many struggles, challenges and obstacles to face. More importantly I have had to deal with failing. Trying to get on track was hard for me because I did not believe in myself or that I could do it. I am constantly having negative thoughts going through my head and don’t have confidence in myself.

I remember going on my iPad and visiting my Bible app for the first time in a while. There was I verse I read that helped me with my struggles. After reading it, it helped me push through everything, trust in Him and wait for God’s will.

So do not throw away your confidence, because it has a great reward. For you need endurance in order to do God’s will and so receive what was promised.”  – Hebrews 10: 35-36

5. What advice would you give someone who is feeling that they are facing a daunting challenge at the moment?

My advice is to never give up on yourself and don’t let your failure hold you back.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course,  you fail the test. And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” -2 Cor. 13: 5-6

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So often we demand that God provide everything we think we need in order to obey Him. Jesica is called to be an artist, and yet God didn’t give her hands. Sometimes it seems like God gives us the wrong tools for the job.

Our limitations are God’s opportunities for glory. —> click to tweet

Jesica only has one foot, but with God that is enough for her to create beautiful art. Maybe you wonder if God made you the wrong way. Do you have the right body, personality or gifting to do the things in your heart? I’m willing to bet that God has given you exactly what you need to accomplish what He has created you to do. It just may not come the way you expect.

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photo 2 Jessica Gacusan is an artist and student at the University of Hawaii. You can connect with Jessica on Facebook or check out her blog XpressingYourself.

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The Dirty Gospel: Naked Runners and Other Scary Places

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The scary troll under Fremont Bridge in Seattle

Yes,  you read that correctly. Naked runners. The Dirty Gospel is about to get interesting.  If you are new here, take some time and catch up on other posts from this series. For the rest of you old timers, I’d like to tell you a story.

About this time three years ago it was a lovely Sunday in Seattle. The sun was shining and a crisp autumn breeze was blowing leaves around as I loaded my kids in the car after church. I was taking my brood to a Thai restaurant in Fremont to meet up with friends for some post-church Pad Thai. Yummy, no?

My kids ( ages 4 & 1 at the time) were playing in the backseat as traffic slowly crept along. I veered left to cross into Fremont over the bridge from Queen Anne. As luck would have it, I got there just as the drawbridge was opening up to let a boat cross through the canal. It was a stunning day so I knew there was most likely a line of boats coming through. We could be here a while.

Tait was in his car seat directly behind me and his little feet kept kicking the back of my seat. I turned around to tell him to cut it out and that is when I saw them. Right next to our car. Gulp.

A small group of men and women who were jogging in place on the sidewalk just to our left. They were naked. And they were wearing pumpkins on their heads. I told my kids that we were going to play a game and everyone needed to close their eyes. NOW.

Thankfully my kids obeyed and I scouted out the other surrounding areas. A few lanes over there was another group of nude runners also with pumpkin faces. Every fall in Seattle there is a run in the city where the participants wear nothing but pumpkins on their heads. And I was in the middle of it. Stuck in traffic on a drawbridge with about 10 of these nude squash lovers. Awesome.

I came up with some lame game that, by the grace of God, my kids played which involved looking at the floor the whole time.

Finally, the bridge came down and all the traffic started to move. We passed about 15 other naked runners before arriving at the restaurant. Miraculously my kids didn’t see any of the XXX track and field stars we passed.

And that is my story. It reminds me of the time I accidentally took my daughter to the funeral of a slain gang member. But that is another story for another day.

Why did I tell you about the naked pumpkin runners? Because the Dirty Gospel is like that sometimes. God called us to Seattle. A place where crazy things happen and no one seems to get arrested for it.

When God says “Pick up your cross and follow Me” there is a good chance He will lead us to locations that are unknown and scary. Places we never planned on going.

God takes us to places that seem to turn our plans inside out. And that is where He builds the “more than we can ask or imagine” dreams. —> click to tweet

The career change we never saw coming. The relationship that ended before happily ever after had a chance to happen. New cities that seem hostile to the life we want to live. Or maybe it is adults who run naked with pumpkin hats in front of your preschoolers.

Following God can seem to oppose what we would like if it were left up to us. Our outcomes and prefered endings are rarely where we end up. Along the way something miraculous happens. God moves and does the unimaginable. The option we didn’t know ever existed opens up. Suddenly these scary places aren’t so intimidating anymore. God is there with us and He turns the nightmare into a dream.

This is the Dirty Gospel. Following God into places that scare us and challenge our trust in God. This is the story of God who always steps in and does His part. Covering your kids eyes so they don’t see the craziness around them or rebuilding the dreams that broke down long ago. It doesn’t matter what it is or where He takes you. The Gospel is enough for whatever we face.

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The Dirty Gospel : Hope and Disappointment

I think it is impossible to talk about the Dirty Gospel without talking about hope.

” Those who hope in Me will not be disappointed.” – Isaiah 49:23

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I don’t know about you, but hope and disappointment seem to go hand in hand for me. In fact, journeying with God is basically one big “hope”.

hope – to expect with confidence (Merriam Webster)

Hope elevates and stabs simultaneously. It is the desire for something to come. An unfulfilled dream, promise or destiny. But along the way we get weary.

I take God at His word only to begin to wonder if He has forgotten what He said. I hoped for a healthy baby. But I got depression instead. Bethany shared her hope for God to do something big, but she got a child with special needs and a husband with stage 4 cancer.   

I hoped for God to meet my need, but He isn’t fair. In the dark nights and wild days we hope that God will be there. We pray He doesn’t disappear. 

We are all hoping for something. Maybe it is family, finances, health, freedom from addiction, self-confidence, or a grand dream in your heart.

In the Bible we look at Abraham who believed “hope against hope” and all that. But this doesn’t feel like some great sermon illustration. It’s my life. It just feels like waiting. The days turn into months…turn into years. And still I am left hoping.

At some point doubt creeps in all of us. What did we do wrong? Is God punishing me for something? At what point do I throw in the towel? Hope hurts because we have to believe.

We begin to wonder if we sound ridiculous. ” I know that we have prayed for 5 years, but my son is going to be healed” , “God promised a wife for me. I know that someone is coming” , “Sure, this economy is bad. But God said to start this business”. Hope hurts because we have to risk.

We are forced to revisit disappointment over and over. Fight off discouragement and bitterness at unfulfilled desires. Our best efforts start to fall short. Rallying enough inner fight we face another day. Praying that this is the year of breakthrough. Hope hurts because it is exhausting. 

Usually when hope reaches the point of pain, we have been in the fight for years. Our resources and lives have been spent. Placing everything we are on the promise that God will be faithful. We make decisions on the premise that our hope will be fulfilled and our hearts will no longer be left wanting. Hope is all we have left, because we let go of everything else. Hope hurts because it is all on the line.

Our ability to control outcomes is removed. Circumstances and environments are not interpreted with worldly wisdom. Often we don’t know what else to do but stand where we are. Praying that God moves something somewhere.

Facing a mountain range with a cardigan and sandals. Unprepared in the natural to tackle the spiritual. Abilities and carnal strength are no match for the promise. Our fleshly nature dies. Hope hurts because it kills us.

That is where the Dirty Gospel comes in. It reaches into my disappointment and reminds me why I hope. When I am too stubborn to look up, Jesus comes in after me. He gently pulls my face upword. Where my help comes from. Where my hope comes from.

I hope because despite the immediate situation, I know something more of Jesus. I understand the comfort of a generous Savior.

I hope because when there is nothing left in me there is always more of God.

Disappointment distracts us from the dream. Hope reminds us to endure until we reach the promise. —> click to tweet.

 We cry in the process, but are ALWAYS victorious. In my need He is glorified and I am satisfied. I hope because this Gospel may be dirty sometimes, but it is always true. The One who makes the promise is the One who keeps the promise.

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The Dirty Gospel : When God Disappears

IMG_5124We are well on our way into the Dirty Gospel series. If you are new here, grab your coffee and catch up on loss & depression, a severe mercy, and why I believe God is not fair.

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This is a picture of my living room and in many ways what my relationship with God feels like sometimes. It is empty and God is not to be found. Sure, there are reminders like boots on the floor that He is here somewhere, but I can’t see Him.

Back in college it seemed that God was everywhere I looked. His voice sounded so near and His presence was unmistakably close. I didn’t have to look for Him. He was just everywhere. I have had other times in my life since then that God has been beyond evident. I love those seasons where I can feel God with me.

But, something happens between those obvious moments with God. He seems to disappear…God hides.

Sure, He is around still. I just can’t find Him.

I read the Bible and it feels dry. I pray and can’t seem to go more than two sentences before I completely loose my train of thought due to disengagement. God’s voice begins to feel more like a rumor than a reality.

Is this some cruel joke? Did God manipulate my emotions and then check out?

What used to be endless journaling trying to catch all the dreams God was putting in my heart turned into blank pages with nothing to be written. God is silent.

These dips in my relationship with God used to throw me for a loop. I would get confused and doubtful if anything I had previously experienced had been real. How could I depend on a God that seems bi-polar at times. Is God flakey?

I’ve come to discover that these silent moments where God appears to be missing are when the Gospel does a deep work in me. I need the “highs” with God, but I need the depth too.

Experiencing God produces a desire for Him, seeking God produces faith in Him. —> click to tweet

When God disappears, I have to make deliberate and non-emotional steps to seek Him. My faith becomes stronger and there is a steadfastness that builds up like a deep anchor in my soul. I learn how to believe that He is with me when I cannot see Him.

I need that skill on weeks like this one. My friend Stevie died of brain cancer. Our adoption hit a new snag and it appears to be delayed even longer…

Times like these, I am thankful that God seems to disappear from time to time. I have learned the defining truth that when I seek Him I will find Him. I will find Him late in the night when I don’t think I have what it takes to obey what He is asking of me. I will find Him in the pain that seems unbearable.

The Gospel is dirty because it makes us dig deeper into the scary, painful and fearful places. And in that process of digging we realize that God has actually never left.

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The Dirty Gospel : God Isn’t Fair

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I discovered this weekend that I hate the woman Jesus healed. I’ll back up just a second for a few of you new readers. We are in the middle of a series called The Dirty Gospel. Loss & Depression then a post about God’s love being a severe and painful mercy.

This past weekend I was at World Mandate conference (more on that Thursday). Louie Giglio spoke on Friday night about the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8. But this is the part that stuck out to me:

A man named Jairus pleaded with Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter. On their way the woman with the issue of blood reached out and touched Jesus. At that moment Jesus stopped and healed that woman. Yippee, right?

Not for Jairus. While this woman was getting her healing, a messenger came and told Jairus that his daughter was dead. Jesus was too late. Jairus was first and she cut in line. This is where I realized that I despised this woman.

Well, not this actual woman. But what she represents in my life. All those times where I am begging God, but it seems that He is too busy helping others. I am crying about my financial lack, only to learn that someone else received a significant amount of money as a random gift. What the heck, God? It isn’t fair that they have so much and I have so little.

We have been in the process of adopting for almost four years. FOUR years. In that time I have seen so many families bring home their little kids. I guess Jesus was too busy helping them that He forgot about my waiting family. They only had to wait a year. It isn’t fair.

We planted a church in a city that didn’t seem to care about God. In our first few months in Seattle we talked to 2,000 people about Jesus. Want to know how many came to church? Two. Just two out of two thousand. Meanwhile in another American city, revival is breaking out and churches are growing out of their spaces. God, we are doing what you asked us to do. Why isn’t anything happening? This isn’t fair.

Maybe for you, it is marriage. Or family. Your friends seem to be having all the luck with romance and babies. Perhaps you have been working hard in your career only to watch a co-worker get the promotion.

Waiting for God to move, only to watch Him part the waters for someone else. All the while, we feel like we are dying just like the daughter did. Jesus was too late. He wasn’t fair.

I have died waiting for a Savior who seems to have gotten distracted.

When I see people around me getting what they are desperately seeking from God, I cringe. Because in my little way of thinking I somehow conclude there is now less for me. Maybe Jesus used up all His magic sprinkles for their miracle. Will Jesus run out of His miracles before He gets around to me?

I think that when Jesus is working on behalf of someone else, it means I am still sitting on the to-do list. Maybe He will get around to me, maybe not. Fingers crossed I don’t die waiting to find out.

Then I remember the truth and I take heart.

The story ends with Jesus going to Jairus’ daughter and raising her from the dead. Jesus didn’t just show His power in her life by healing her. He did something bigger and more unexpected.

And that’s what we hope in. There are days it feels like we watch another get our blessing. The spouse we want, the kids we crave, the bank account we dream of, the job we’ve worked hard for and the recognition we think we deserve. And maybe it isn’t fair.

Fair = reasonable. Not sure about you, but I’m glad God isn’t reasonable when it comes to the Gospel. I don’t deserve it and if He was fair then I’d be a goner.

The Gospel isn’t fair. It is more than that. It is ample, generous, and extravagant. —> click to tweet.

Sure, sometimes waiting for God kills us. It kills our flesh to make room for something bigger. If we watch a dream die, it is because God is going to call forth something bigger and more grand than we were ever imagining.

Remember how only two out of two thousand came to church? God did a miracle with those two girls. He birthed a church. They gathered a critical mass of friends and our church began to grow and take off. What seemed like death was God’s way of bringing life.

The Gospel is dirty because it kills us sometimes. It kills our misperceptions and wrong expectations. It kills our selfish ambitions and pride. But, God never leaves us dead. He raises us up into the life He has destined for us.

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The Dirty Gospel : A Severe Mercy

I’d like you all to meet my friend that I have never met. Well, never met in person. We found each other on Instagram somehow and I began following her story through her pictures. I started The Dirty Gospel series a few weeks ago. Last week I talked about finding God in the midst of loss and depression. I was overjoyed that Bethany agreed to let us in on what the dirty gospel means to her. This week Bethany is sharing her story. 

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Many years ago, I read the book  A Severe Mercy and it shook me. It is among a handful of books that shaped who I am today.

I remember reading it and thinking this is the kind of marriage I want to have. A marriage with no “creeping separateness”. I wanted a marriage where we always remained open with each other. I wanted a marriage where we were friends as well as lovers and just loved being together. I got the impression from the book that they had that. And I remember sobbing when the writers wife died.

His conclusion in the end of the book is that his wife dying was God’s severe mercy to him, because it was her death which led him to a relationship with God. It was in her death that he was able to find God in a way he hadn’t been able to with his wife alive.

In the past year I have had two such severe mercies. Two struggles which have come into my life that I never would have wanted, but that have shaped my relationship with God in ways that nothing else could have.

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When I was in college I begged God not to give me a child with special needs – seriously prayed nearly every day for a year that He wouldn’t!

I thought if God did allow me to have a child with special needs He would be cruel, sadistic, and unloving.

Now I stand at the other end of that prayer, not only having a daughter with special needs but with severe special needs – a daughter who ( according to specialists) is unlikely to ever walk, talk or live on her own.

I can see clearly, from where I am now, that God giving me this child wasn’t cruel –  it was deeply loving. It was His mercy and grace to me.

I want her. I can’t imagine life without her. She has showed me, in ways I never could have understood without her, that God is love. She is a severe, and at times painful, grace to me. But she is still grace.

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When my husband was diagnosed with stage three melanoma there was one prayer that was never far from my lips, “God, don’t let it progress to stage four. Please, Lord!”.

Two months ago, God wrapped His arms around me and whispered His presence into my heart as I read the PET scan that told us my husband’s cancer had indeed progressed to stage four.

And I thought of that book I had read so many years before.

Even in this, God shows His love.

The Gospel is messy in my life because God cannot be controlled. He continually does things I don’t want Him to do. He isn’t made in our image.

God hasn’t come to me in the ways I’ve wanted Him to, but He’s come in the ways I’ve needed Him to. —> click to tweet

This doesn’t make Him unloving, it makes Him GOD.

In all of our lives there comes a time when we pray, “Please, God, anything but ____”.  There comes a day when something happens that we absolutely didn’t want, that we don’t know how we’ll face, something that we don’t understand.

The same happened for Jesus.

Christ Himself prayed that very prayer in the garden, “If there’s any other way…” Oh, God, please not this. Anything but this.

It is the ultimate severe mercy for all of us, and even for Jesus Himself, that God answered His prayer for another way with “no”.

So, today I am grateful for severe mercies. I’m thankful for the heavy, messy, and sometimes painful love of God.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

*** If you consider yourself a praying person, please pause and say a prayer for Bethany’s husband Bryan. He is continuing to fight stage 4 melanoma ***

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photoBethany Stedman is a mom and writer who often wishes she was saving the world with a super hero cape, a quill, and some rocking literature. Instead she spends most days playing peek-a-boo with her baby girl, reading Goodnight Moon, and racing around the house with her preschooler. She’s completely addicted to Pinterest, peanut butter, and Doctor Who (yup, nerd to the core). She blogs about life with God, parenting, marriage, and anything else that comes to mind at www.bethstedman.com. Come stop by and say hello.

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