Give God the Glory: The Mars Hill Controversy

Dear World, and to my Christian brothers and sisters found within it,

My name is Lael Barwood, and almost all of you have no idea who I am.  I am a member of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  I attend the Downtown location, and have been a regular attender for over two years.  This letter is about the maelstrom involving my Church.  I have heard it called an attack, justice, a comeuppance, hateful, loving, brutal, slanderous, and the list could go on and on.  I will assume you get the picture.  In all of this I have found a different word: gift.  The entire mess on all sides has been a series of unexpected blessings and divine intimacy.  “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble” (Psalm 107:2)

In the Bible Paul starts out several of his books with a sort of list of ‘credentials’.  So let me follow his lead and do that here.  I am not some casual attendee of Mars Hill Church.  Pastor Phil Smidt conducted my pre-marital counseling. Both he and his wife taught me invaluable lessons during the Preparing for Marriage classes.  They shared their lives with us, even the not so pretty parts, so that I could have a more holy and Christ honoring marriage.  Pastor Tim Gaydos married me.  I sat beneath his teaching for nearly two years.  From him I have been enormously blessed to witness what it means to be on fire for Jesus.  I was a part of Pastor Bill Clem’s flock when he served at Ballard.  From him I learned the kind compassion of the Father’s heart.  My husband and I have received counsel from Pastor Joel Brown on many difficult issues involving my husband’s daughter.  The Holy Spirit has used his calm strength to point to the balm of the cross.  My soul has found solace beneath the worshipful songs sung by Pastor Cam Huxford.  Ghost Ship has a way of stirring the Holy Spirit in my heart to lift my hands even as tears roll down my cheeks.  I have struggled through a Redemption Group led by Pastor Mike Wilkerson.  He taught me that there is neither shame nor condemnation now that I am in Christ Jesus.  A lesson I often have to remind myself of.  I have learned to be both bold and courageous for Christ through Pastor Sutton Turner as he goes on mission trips across oceans.  When I have spoken with him personally I am always reminded to stand firm for the cause of the Word.  Through my conversations with Pastor Dave Bruskas, and listening to his sermons, I am coming to understand the strength and love of the Father.  That my will and my words and my works mean nothing because only the will, words, and works of the LORD last forever.  Pastor Mark Driscoll is a man I have spoken to a handful of times and only for minutes at most.  Through him I have learned what humility, repentance, and endurance looks like.  My husband is a Community Group leader.  I Co-lead a Women’s Mid-Week Study.  I have served on the Connect Desk at the Downtown Church for almost as long as I have been attending it.

I say all of this to show that I am not unaffected by everything that is going on.  I am in the midst of it.  This is not just my Church, this is my Family.  These are not just men who teach the Word, they are my Pastors.  I am not blindly consuming each service, but I am there to serve the needs of the sheep as best as I can.  I am not immune.  My ears are not deaf.  The above paragraph is not to discount your grievances, but merely to show you that I am involved in my Church.  I actually do not want to discount, deny, nor discredit you at all …on either side of this argument.  What I want to do is thank you all.

You see I am currently suffering from an intense round of PTSD.  For those of you who have been hurt and betrayed in this I can understand where you are coming from.  A little over ten years ago I was engaged to a man who is no longer a part of my life.  I was in a car accident and I had to rely on this man to take me to the doctors, to help me bathe, to get my meds, to help me clean my house, to help me cook, and to drive me to my Physical Therapists.  I loved this man and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.  What no one knew is that for six months after the car accident that man raped me daily, repeatedly, and involved me in other humiliating sexual acts.  I lived in torment for over a year with him, being sexually assaulted for another year after the six months of rape.  So I know what it is like to be betrayed.  I know what it is like to be hurt.  And I know what it is like to be damaged for years because of those things.  Like I said, I do not want to discount, discredit, nor deny any of the pain or suffering you have endured.   Trust me, I know how crappy that feels.

I want to thank you.  All of you.  Every last person who has been involved, or who has involved themselves in this mess with Mars Hill and its Pastors.  I have learned so much over these last few months.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

The ‘you’ in this is not a person.  The ‘you’ in this is not a group of people.  The ‘you’ in this is not a website or a Facebook group.  The ‘you’ in this is not even the man who tormented me all those years ago.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

The enemy of God meant to crush me, to destroy me over a decade ago.  The enemy of God is still working today to crush and destroy the children of God.  As chaos as erupted outside of Mars Hill Church and within Mars Hill Church God has been faithful to save my life through it.  The Lord has been faithful to bless me as He carries me through this valley of suffering with PTSD.  And I want to share that with you.

Through this I have learned how not to be bitter against the man who abused me.  I always thought I had forgiven him, but in watching this maelstrom around Pastor Mark I realized that my forgiveness was not complete.  I blamed the man who abused me for many things in my life.  Everything about me changed.  I now deal with people much differently.  I have put on weight to keep myself unattractive and to give me license to continue thinking myself disgusting.  I held on to all the ways he wronged me so tightly sometimes that I am surprised my fingers did not break.  I have such good, right, and justified reasons to hate this man.  I have every good, right, and justified reason to see this man suffer consequences.  He wronged me in ways I can’t describe.  I am right to be angry.  I have a right to demand justice against him!  But God …stepped in.

But God.  Those are two of my favorite words.  But God would not leave me here like this.  He used this entire mess to reach out to me, to speak to me.  But God had me listen to a sermon by Pastor Matt Chandler.  It is an amazing sermon.  Here is a section of what he said that has replayed over and over in my head these last few months.

“First, their versions of the conflict will almost always be different, and no one really wants to own anything. Everyone thinks the other person is at fault. If you start asking questions, it gets almost cartoonish. Not to make light of this scenario at all, but if the other person is 90 percent to blame and my 10 percent was how I responded to what they did, there is a common belief that I don’t have to own my 10 percent because they’re 90 percent to blame.

No, you’ve still sinned. You’ve sinned against God and against them. “Well, that sin was only a response to their sin.” It’s still sin. It’s not like God is going, “You know what? I totally get that. In fact, what I would have done…” No. In fact, God has already given us the example of what he would have done, which is initiate and forgive, engage and reconcile. Those of us who have been forgiven, how consistently do we walk in gratitude for the grace we’ve been shown by the King of glory? Not as often as we should, I can tell you that. We’re quick to forget, quick to presume upon the Lord for his grace and forgiveness, God help us.” – Pastor Matt Chandler

I am not to blame for any of the sin committed against me by that man.  But I have sinned in response to that hurt, that betrayal, and that soul shattering moment.  Whether or not that man is a Christian or will ever be a Christian is not a matter for me to consider.  God is very clear about how I am to respond.  God holds me accountable for my reactions, for He gave me His example of His perfect reaction to my own hurt, betrayal, and rebellion.

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God,  who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

 

This doesn’t just go for that man, or Pastor Mark, or Pastor Dave, or your next door neighbor, or your spouse, or your best friend, or your parent.  It goes for everyone. How am I supposed to implore anyone on behalf of Christ if I do not rely upon His perfect justice?  How can I praise Him through His cleansing blood if I hold the sins of others so closely to my heart?  They are not my sins.  Jesus bought every sin ever committed on the Cross.  They all belong to Him.  As my wonderful friend Lee Brown told me a few Sunday’s ago….when I cling to the sins committed against me I am actually stealing them from Jesus.  He purchased them with His blood.  Or do I not believe that?  And if I don’t believe that …why am I worshiping Him?  I have to believe it.  Belief in His cleansing blood is the only reason for joy!

Next, I am the ‘cut and run’ sort of person.  If you had hurt me or betrayed me, or someone I care about, I simply cut you out of my life.  I had no time for it.  But God (see aren’t those beautiful words?) made me a new creation:

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  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)

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

“By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” ( 2 Peter 1:4)

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:9-10)

If it had not been for Jesus I would not be at Mars Hill Church right now.  The moment drama hit the fan I would have left because it is more convenient for me.  I would have given up on friendships and saved my heart the trouble of caring. But in Christ I am new!  In CHRIST I can forgive the man who tormented me.  I can pray for him.  I do pray for him.  I no longer wish him ill.  I do not dwell on him and what he has done to me.  Instead I painfully walk through the wreckage with Jesus and watch HIM heal and make new!!  You all, every last one of you, have helped me learn this.  I have watched you respond and I have seen all those responses to my own situation.  And God has shown Himself to me through it and in it.  Mars Hill is not Pastor Mark Discoll.  Mars Hill is not the Executive Elders.  Mars Hill is a body of believers.  Mars Hill is a church who loves Jesus.  Mars Hill is Jesus’ bride.

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2)

Every Christian is a part of that bride.  It does not matter what church you attend, if Jesus knows you …you are part of my family.  The man who abused me could be a part of that bride.  And after all the Jesus has done for me …Jesus has done for all of you.  Who am I to shame you?  Who am I to discount your feelings?  Jesus knows them better than I do.  And I trust His judgment and His justice.  It came at the Cross and we will all fall to one side of that Cross.

“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)

So I will not turn my back on Mars Hill.  I will not turn my back on Pastor Mark.  I will not turn my back on any of you.  I pray for you daily.  My heart is heavy for hurts I know all too well.  I do not dismiss them.  I lay them at the nail scarred feet of my Savior.  For you are my family.  God does not quit on His family, and so neither will I.  Pastor James MacDonald has an awesome sermon that spoke to me about all of this.  It is Part 1 in his How to Have Peace of Mind sermon series. In the sermon he asks a few questions that have stuck with me these last few months.  Is this dispute, this argument, this sin I am wrestling with something I will need to talk to Jesus about in heaven?  In heaven will it still matter?  When I am face to face with my Lord and Savior …do I need to point out someone and say that we need to have a sit down?  If not then I need to forgive and let it go.  You are my family, and how we are supposed to treat our family has gotten so messed up, but Jesus made it abundantly clear.  In eternity there are only two sides.

There are only two sides in any situation I will ever get into.  There is no “Mars Hill side”.  There is no “anti-Mars Hill” side.  There is no them against us.  There is no him against him.  There is no me against you.  Whatever situation you can imagine there is still only two sides.  You are either on the side for Christ, or you are on the side against Christ.  And if you are on Team Jesus  then you have only one purpose in life: to give the glory to God.  That is the only question I should ask myself.  Is my reaction to my abuser giving glory to God?  Is my reaction to my abuser pointing people to Jesus?  Is my reaction to this maelstrom around my Church giving glory to God?  Are your actions and words giving glory to God?  If I am not glorifying God and pointing people to Jesus …it doesn’t matter what sin has been committed against me …it doesn’t excuse my sin in return.  Sin is sin.  Either I am on Team Jesus or I am not.  And this entire situation has been a huge blessing in showing me how to be on Team Jesus!

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” (Colossians 3:23)

“’All thinks are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Lastly, my Pastor—Mark Driscoll—gave a wonderful sermon just a few weeks back about conflict.  Whatever conflict I find myself in at the end is Jesus made much of?  Or is the devil dancing?  Thank you world for bringing me this intimacy and look into how God wants me to live and treat others.  God does use all things for His good.  And I want to give you my gratitude for this blessing.

Sincerely and with a grateful heart,

Christ’s beloved servant,

Lael Barwood

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“(1) Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him.  (2) And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!  Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’

(3) Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel.  (4) Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’  And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’

(5) And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’  So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him.  And the Angel of the Lord stood by.”  (Zechariah 3:1-5)

 

God truly does have a perfect sense of timing about things.  Today at Church Pastor Mark did a sermon on sexual assault; basically Chapter 7 of the book “Real Marriage” that he wrote with his wife.  If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it.  Even if you aren’t married you probably know people who are, or you likely will be married yourself one day.  This was a hard and uncomfortable sermon for me.  But timely.  I am currently reading the book “Rid of my Disgrace” by the Holcombs; another highly recommended book.  It deals with sexual assault in the light of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  Again, even if you have never been sexually assaulted I can promise you that you probably know someone who has so this would be an awesome book for you to read so you know what to say….and more importantly what not to say…to someone who is hurting from this.  I will warn you that this book is not an easy read, particularly if you have been sexually assaulted.  I am only able to get through maybe a chapter a week. Right now I am on Chapter 5, which is about denial, and I am really struggling with how much of that I have actually been doing since my assault.

 

So today’s ‘Our Daily Bread’ fit in with the sermon.  It is about taking away the filth of our iniquity to clothe us in rich robes.  Pastor Mark spoke about how Jesus takes away my shame, my defilement, and scorns it on the cross.  To be perfectly honest I don’t fully understand it.  I see the vague outline of it like looking through a frosted over window peering out through a dense fog.  I can see the outline of the cross there, but in light of what happened to me I struggle.  Which is why I am going to be going through a Redemption Group to help me with this.  This idea terrifies me; it makes me want to itch all over.  You see I thought I was past all of this.  I went to a Rape Counselor for about a year and a half just over 5 years ago to deal with all of this.  I thought I had moved beyond it.  That everything was fine.  Only to learn within the first two chapters of reading the book that I probably suffer from PTSD, and that I am really not okay with what happened to me.  At all.  I learned how to function again on a normal standard.  I learned how to check back into this world.  But I have no idea what it means to be healed or not feel the way I feel.

 

The Scripture reading today says that Joshua was dressed in filthy rags.  I know it is common for assault victims to feel dirty or gross.  I feel disgust.  I feel disgusting.  I often believe the lie that the Enemy tells me that my fiancé thinks I am disgusting.  I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror because of that disgust.  I was raped over ten years ago and I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that I carried this identity from that assault.  It was always just sort of there in the back of my mind.  So when I read that verse in the Scripture I cringe.  It makes my stomach turn because I can imagine what Joshua was feeling in that moment standing before the lord wearing that.  And Pastor Mark hit it on the head today with one of the struggles I have been having.  What was I supposed to do, say “Forgive me Jesus for being raped repeatedly by my ex-fiancé at the time.”  It wasn’t my sin.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  How does that get off?  I can’t scrub it off, trust me I have tried to scrub it off to the point of bleeding before in my past.  I have never been able to ever really feel clean again.  I want to feel clean again.  Which is why I really, really want to go to this Redemption Group no matter how terrified I am.

 

So the devotional today spoke about how Jesus takes away our sin: something I totally understand and am eternally grateful for. But Pastor Mark spoke of something else which I don’t get so I thought to look up what the dictionary definition of “iniquity” is.  Iniquity: 1. Gross injustice or wickedness; and 2. A violation of right or duty, wicked act; sin.  If I use that first definition it helps me to see that cross a little more clearly.  The Angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, takes away my gross injustices.  All the gross, disgusting, deplorable injustices done upon me that make it impossible for me to look at myself in the mirror…Jesus took away.  My head knows that, but my heart doesn’t understand it.  I want to understand it.  I know that my understanding of it won’t happen overnight.  I know it is something I need to mediate on, prayerfully seek out the Holy Spirit to help me.

 

So tonight I will go to bed with that prayer in my heart for help, comfort, and understanding.  And a new memory verse that Crystal from “Rid of my Disgrace”, was kind enough to share. “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” (Joel 2:25).  God is a good and faithful God.  I believe He will keep that promise.