Fear & Brokeness

“How many times do I have to raise my hand before I’m sure I’m a Christian?” So many alter calls, so many times told that maybe something happened that week to disrupt grace or hope or salvation. At conventions, camps, and revival services, there was an equal number of edicts about impending hell or being left behind so, “you better make sure you are sure!!” After all, you are a wretch in need of saving. 

Fear depends on brokenness

Fear is a powerful motivator… for a short time. It can spark an immediate reaction, it can challenge, and it can move people into compliance. So it is understandable that it would be the language of dynamic speakers and passionate evangelists. But it is ultimately anchored to a misconception about the nature of grace and salvation because fear relies on the idea of humanity’s intrinsic brokenness. 

At its most basic, fear says our brokenness has us already on fire on our way to hell and that grace is like water dousing the flames. Of course, as soon as we return to real life we are faced with “trials and temptations” and are quickly burning up again and so the cycle goes until either we give up or find a pattern of life that is deemed holy enough to not seem worthy of hell.


But, if you read last week’s blog or listened to the episode, you’ve already heard that our sin and our need for Jesus is not a matter of brokenness but of distance.  Our proximity to the God whose image we bear and our distance from who He designed and called us to be (Genesis 1:28 & 2:15). 

And so fear has little place in the very real invitation to close the distance. This theme in the biblical story, as seen neatly in Hebrews chapter 10, is simply to “draw near.” It is an invitation to close the proximity gap.  An invitation to come into a relationship or strengthen it or to simply enjoy the security of long commitment and shared experience. 

Invitations like these leave little room for fear. Think of it as the difference between a beautifully printed formal invitation sent by mail on heavy card stock and a text about a fat-cleanse boot camp at your gym. Unless you are someone who dislikes all large gatherings, the first brings excitement and planning and joy. The second brings trepidation, resignation (if you really do need to lose some weight), and then either apathy or active attempts to get out of going. 

The invitation assumes a measure of value and care for the recipient. You are getting a beautiful invitation to draw near because you are valued and loved. The other one is a condemnation of your current status possibly wrapped in care for your long-term well-being but the message is still that you are unacceptable as you are.  The invitation says you are already acceptable even if you still have work to do to be party-ready.

Purpose with difficulty

The shift in perspective may seem small and, if you aren’t a party person, then the example may feel a bit trite (it is a simplification for sure!) However, the point is that God created mankind and blessed them to have a good purpose on the earth. Does that seem like brokenness? Without a doubt, the fall recounted just a chapter later leads to deep imperfection – kicked out of the garden, instead of a thriving orchard – a rough grain field, difficulty with childbearing – but at the core what picture does the fall paint? Consider the very first outcome; God searching for Adam and Eve in the garden. After an exchange, they are sent out of the garden – out of God’s direct presence. A change in distance, not value.

The outcome for them was increased difficulty but it was not lost purpose. They were blessed to rule and to tend the garden and to generate a large family (“fill the earth” ) and they still did those things outside of the garden. Their purpose and worth and their status as images of God did not cease to be – as brokenness implies. However, through their rebellion, they created distance from God.  And distance from the One whose image we bear means that we function far outside of the ideal He created. We are often terrible at being human – at ruling and subduing and flourishing, to use the language from Genesis. And so what is needed is not a ready fix for a horribly broken creation but a restoration of the relationship for which we originated. 


You are not broken but you may be distant. The invitation is for you to close the distance, something you could not do on your own – to labor the earlier example, you don’t get into the party without an RSVP. But, have no fear, the invitation is open to you as you are right now.

What Is Real Community?

“I thought once I joined the church, I would have lots of friends. Why do I still feel so lonely?” A variation on this question has been posed by too many people for one story to be accurate. The young mid-20s woman who is working full time while going to school. She is smart and fun and quick to listen but feels like her friends are all either busy or only interested when they need her expertise. Also, the just-barely-20 guy who is still trying to figure out life but who is so talented and has a wicked sense of humor but hates the social niceties and small talk that seems to be required to make new friends. And the young parents who joined the church hoping to find other young parents surviving the late nights and the money fights and the huge changes but find that everyone else is just as busy and tired or they are “super parents” who make them feel inadequate. 

Despite the challenges, all the people represented by that question still deeply hoped for friends. Real friends. Not the say-hi-in-the-lobby or follow-on-social or at-home-business-networking types of friends but the kind you share inside jokes (or memes) with or call when you need to ugly cry. 

The Benefits

The very real psychological benefits of genuine friendships are well established. Aristotle called humans “social creatures” and modern psychology has found a host of benefits to genuine relationships (Meyers offers a great summary) including safety, sense of security and belonging, better physical health, greater emotional endurance, and lower instances of emotional disorders. 

Of course, this list is not insightful to any degree.  The opening question, “why am I still lonely?” is underpinned by the knowledge that strong friendships are beneficial. Humans have been herd mammals from the start. The very beginning of the biblical story, Genesis 2:18, firmly states, “it is not good for man to be alone.” And God chose to use a family, a tribe, a community to invite people back into His design. The concept of biblical peace (shalom) is tied to order and structure – the community functioning in a way that causes the world and the people to thrive. 

The Ideal

A community of peace and growth is the ideal example of healthy relationships.  The type that fills the need expressed in the opening questions.  And it begins with two key factors: trust and vulnerability.  A healthy community is based on mutual trust as displayed by a desire to be honest and to challenge each other. As the old familiar Proverb states, “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). This verse, in its context and history, is a simple and perfect analogy of how a community is meant to function. Two people bring their flaws and honest needs to each other and, in honest discourse and loving feedback, they both become more effective (read: better) versions of themselves.  

Trust & Feedback

After all, within a healthy community people are encouraged to be the fullest representation of who they are meant to be; their talents developed, their gifts encouraged, and their needs met. But this type of growth only happens when there is trust and feedback.  Trust without feedback is wonderful when you need a shoulder to cry on.  Feedback without trust is judgment – a good thing if it’s an evaluation or contest but not great within relationships. Growth demands both trust and feedback.  

Consider how a top-tier coach works with elite athletes. The athlete trusts the coach’s expertise and their ability to find ways the athlete can improve their gift.  The coach trusts the athlete’s talent and their ability to be self-motivated and capable.  One is not greater than the other nor would one even be useful without the other.  Both are necessary and both lead to a better individual ability and far better team outcomes. 

Create Connection

It is the same for friendships and the community they develop. When the people are growing and maturing they are able to invest in the people around them who, in turn, are also growing and maturing.  The cycle continues as each member of the community is able to use their talents, gifts, and resources to meet the needs of their broader social circle. Ultimately, the young professional, the college student, and the new parents all find a place where they feel the deep connection they were looking for – they are needed and they are wanted. 

Can you see these elements in your relationships? Do you challenge and encourage each other? Can you trust what your significant friends tell you about the world and yourself? Are they willing to disagree with you or call out lies you believe about yourself? 

If you do not have healthy relationships and are looking to build them, there is a simple place to begin and the answer is a paradox to be explored next week. We look forward to continuing the conversation with you then…

Is God Angry with you?

“How can you trust a God who is just waiting to punish you?” A fair question and honest fear.  What is the point of believing in a god who spends their time handing down rules so that they can pronounce judgement? We’ve all seen the placards and heard the edicts from preachers, “This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee…” I Samuel 17:45a In short, do as I say, or there is a quick and ready punishment waiting. 

Rules and bounderies

As with many mistaken biblical concepts, the roots of this perspective are more deeply linked to people in power than the truth of God’s plan or the original meaning of the bible. Certainly, there are rules in the bible and there are boundaries of behavior. Generally, these reflect the parameters for living as genuine humans interested in wholeness and peace (for more on this read post 1). Consider the 10 commandments given in Exodus 20. These rules are guidelines for living within a peaceful community.  Stealing, murder, sleeping with your neighbor’s spouse, lying and purgery, and keeping up with the Jones’ are all behaviors that lead to harm within our communities. The first five are about protecting the relationship established between God and people at the beginning of the story – Genesis 1.  They are not arbitrary rules meant to keep us in line; rather they are the rules of engagement, so to speak.

The remainder of the bible follows the same pattern. God wants us to act as humans – images of Him living in peace and helping the earth develop and grow. But humans don’t do those things. They do all the others – lie, steal, take each other’s spouses, hold power over each other, disrespect the rules of engagement — over and over and over.  Without a doubt, humans can really suck at being humane. 

He doesn’t hate you

Certainly, God gets frustrated at how they hurt each other and dismiss Him. Afterall, the point is for humans to reflect God in how we live and work and relate to each other. So something must be done. Enter grace through Jesus.

You may have been taught that God hates you or is mad at you or is looking forward to sending you to hell.  Those are lies.  

Resolution & reconciliation

God does not hate you, He is not looking for ways or opportunities to punish you. The point is not punishment.  It’s resolution and reconciliation.  The point is peace. We fail at being human, God invites us back to connection with Him, as we were originally meant to live.  

Jesus, after a scathing rebuke to several towns who were wholly uninterested in acknowledging God or the proffered relationship, follows with these beautiful words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-29) 

If it were about punishment, the second part would have no place. He calls out the inhuman behavior and then offers the alternative.  Reconciliation with Him and lasting personal peace.

Are you broken?

“How can you hold a belief that people are these wrecked, broken things just waiting for a savior?” He asked the question honestly but with passion. There was no argument that people aren’t terrible sometimes but it seems most people try to be good or, at least, do good.  The whole of humanity can’t really be these horrible sin-riddled broken creatures, can they? 

The point of view underlying his question is the foundation of more than a few media portrayals of fanatical Christians. The kind of people who stand on street corners yelling condemnations and shaking their heads or fists about the sins of everyone passing by.  The understanding is that humans are deeply and irrevocably flawed – broken – in a way that makes us worthy of punishment. (Although, let’s put a pin in the eternal punishment topic for today.) 

Hot mess & grace

The other side of the same belief comes from the church community.  Christians who subscribe to the, “Well, I’m a hot mess but Jesus loves me!” version of brokeness.  They adhere to a system that emphasizes human frailty, sinfulness, and lack as if grace were only profound in the context of humanity being utterly wrecked. Of course, there are plenty of bible verses to be quoted demonstrating that humans fall short of perfection – really just pick up a bible and flip open to any chapter (Psalm 103:19, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23).  It won’t take you long to reach evidence that humans make catastrophic errors on a daily basis, but here is where the point of view divides.

Human history and the biblical story absolutely support the concept of humans as imperfect and less than we could be, but does it really paint a picture of abject brokenness? Especially, continued brokenness despite faith in Christ – the biblical savior and redeemer?  

Very good & not so good

Genesis 1:27 tells us humans were created in God’s image – Genesis also asserts that God charged humans to rule and cultivate the earth and called all this, “very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). So, biblically, what God created was and is good. He set up a system for humans to live and thrive under (the concept of order from chaos – a conversation for another day). When humans decided to create their own framework for living (referred to as sin), does the Bible indicate that we became broken? Genesis 3:23 records, “therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” (emphasis added). While the verses before also tell of other repercussions to the newly established human-derived system, there is no language about brokenness. Rather, as the story unfolds the language indicates a disruption to relationship, closeness, and completeness.  

It’s a proximity problem

Following the language of shalom and the overarching narrative, the story the bible tells is one of fractured relationships — proximity. Adam and Eve, in choosing their system over the one established by God, created more space between them and their creator.  The greater the space, the less human humanity behaves precisely because to be human is to be the image of God. 

The concept of brokenness is handy for recruitment and it sure can be useful to Christians who want a reason for their un-Christian-like behavior. It is not, however, a deeply biblical idea.  If you struggle with the idea of humans being broken, you are in good company – as long as you are closing the proximity gap through Jesus.  

He is the only human to get it right and he returns us to full humanity through connection to Him (Colossians 1:15, Romans 8:16-17).

What is faith?

“What if I don’t have enough faith?” With her head down and eyes brimming, she took a deep breath and almost whispered the question. It was loaded with the unspoken weight of other people’s expectations, personal fear, and a real sense that her current faith was insufficient for today’s struggles. The honest answer was, “you probably don’t.” But that wasn’t the point.

Faith is often talked about in terms of a commodity that can be gathered, earned, grown, and stored up for later. As if it were toilet paper during a quarantine. “Well, honey, you just need a little more faith and things will work out!” (read in a sweet midwestern grandma voice) To be sure, faith can be increased. But not in the way one increases time through efficiency or money through wise investments.  Faith grows in proportion to trust. 

Faith or trust?

There is no faith if there is not first trust. See, faith is the reaction to an assurance. You have faith that the money to pay your bills will be available at your next pay period because you have trust in your employer and bank. The employment contract (and the fact you show up every day and do the work assigned to you) is the foundation of trust that you will receive your paycheck.  Furthermore, the simple reality that you have gotten your paycheck on time in the past increases your trust in the next check. The same is true for your bank. Their FDIC logo says that the government backs them as a financial institution so you can trust them and the fact your money has been available in the past creates personal trust between you and them. It is highly unlikely you would have the same faith in a random employer who emailed you about a “great opportunity” and then wanted to deposit your pay in an unknown on-line bank (with no FDIC logo, physical address or contact information). Experience and instruction have taught you those situations are not trustworthy.

Deliberate Confidence

Spiritual faith is the same in that it is directly proportional to the trust you have in God.  Or, more specifically, in the character of God. You cannot trust what you do not know. As Oswald Chambers said, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” Faith does not require you to fully grasp the why nor does it demand you follow blindly. Moreover, faith is developed as you get to know the trustworthiness of the one you choose to believe in and (in a bit a circular thought), belief strengthens as trust is proven.  

Faith is the payoff of the journey of discovery. It will grow or die based on how much trust you invest along the way. 

Is the Bible true?

“Well, then how do I know what’s true and what’s not!? Why would God give us a book we can’t understand!?” He all but threw the questions out in sheer frustration. The book may be less than clear sometimes but his feelings were obvious and understandable. Having been raised in the church with all the classic stories and some pretty harsh edicts for the consequences of unbelief, his perspective has been that the bible had to be 100% true in the form he had been taught or it was completely false. 

And so began our conversation about what the bible really is. It wasn’t to assure him that his perspective was correct or to throw out everything he had been taught. The conversation revolved around how he thinks about the bible and what expectations we, as westerners, tend to bring with us when we talk about it.  Dismantling our mistaken thoughts and expectations is the best (if not an uncomfortable) place to start.  

Not a textbook

First, it is not a western textbook. The authors (yes, plural) did not write with the scientific method or our Greek-philosophical inspired thought process in mind.  They wrote to their audience, in their time and culture, using their language. Consequently, we cannot pick up our English translations and read the words as if they were written expressly to us in our time and for our ways of thinking.  Which feels a bit like poor planning on the part of an all-knowing eternal God, unless you consider the second point.

Read together

Second, it was not written for solitary consumption.  There are some books that are best read completely alone, in a cozy corner, with warm light and a grey rain (at least that’s the PNW ideal). But the bible wasn’t written in that way or for that purpose.  The earliest parts of the bible were created as part of an oral tradition shared between generations in familial settings (Deuteronomy 6:7) and worship gatherings (Nehemiah 8:2-8, Luke 4:15-33, Acts 16:12-13).  In short, the bible was created within and for community.  The idea that we can each pick up our own bible, read a couple of verses a day, and really learn and understand it is – frankly, ridiculous. The bible is a rich, complex, literary master-work and we do better when we set aside our ideas of cartoon kids’ stories and a bunch of rules…which leads to the third (and for today, final) point.

A cohesive narrative

The bible is not a rule book with stories we should copy-paste over our own actions and choices.  Really. Please don’t indiscriminately copy the behavior of biblical characters. Not even the “heroes” because there are a scant few genuine heroes to be found. King David, the brave youngest son who was called, “A man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14 & Acts 13:22) was also an adulterer and murderer.  And Jonah, we all know he was a little rebellious until his ride in the big fish. In reality, he was a racist and nationalist who ran to avoid benefitting his enemy. Rethinking the view of the bible as a set of rules with good guys and bad guys is critical if you want to understand its true narrative.  

The beauty of these three realities is that the bible isn’t the book you thought, which is a perfect invitation to discover what it really says.  Promise, it’s as relevant and it is real.

What is the bread and cup podcast?

“Can I get you a cup of coffee?” This is a standard start to many of our conversations and, if you were here talking to us face-to-face, it would be one of the first things you would be asked. Maybe, “How are you doing?” would preface it but it would take a very short beat before the offer of a cup of something to drink. See, our backgrounds have ensured that the offer of coffee during any gathering is in our DNA. Both of us spent our significant young adult years in the midwest – a combination of Wisconsin, Nebraska, Missouri, and Minnesota between us. And we are a bi-cultural home with dual citizenship (for all but one of us) in Denmark and the US. To borrow from the mom-centered t-shirt, word art, and Insta posts – “coffee is life” around here.

As essential as a cup of coffee is to a good life, so is authentic conversation. The kind that begins with a hesitant question and evolves into discovery and challenge and (for the bookish among us) research and a return to the discussion. The kind of conversation that owns what we do and do not know and enjoys the journey of learning because it is happening as part of a relationship and not as a solitary struggle.

To be clear, the struggle is a key part of personal and relational growth. Without some struggle, we become house plants. Lovely, possibly growing (not in our house, though!), and totally stuck in one place just exchanging CO2 and O2. So we relish the chance to engage in conversations that allow a little tension in thought and idea.

You too? Perfect! Grab a cup, join our conversations. There are so many interesting things we can talk about. And we look forward to being on the journey of growth with you.