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

Hope because I am Reconciled

“(1)Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  (3) And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulations produces perseverance;  (4) and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  (5) Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

(6) For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (7) For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  (8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(9) Much more than, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  (10) For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  (11) And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:1-11)

 

This is a section of scripture that is very timely for me to hear.  It is also one I have to really pour myself into the very depths of, to drink up every last drop, and saturate my very soul in the depth of what these few sentences are saying.  I want to rush right into the hope spoken about in verse four.  I want to go there, grip there, and hold there.  But I know if I rush to the hope, and skip over everything else my grip will be weak, my hold will be shallow, and at the first shake I will lose what is in my hands.  I need to start at the reason for my hope: reconciliation.

Before I become a Christian I had no clue I needed to be reconciled to God.  I had heard Jesus died for my sins, but I didn’t get the whole “wrath averted” aspect of it.  It was a very little gesture to me.  This was back when I thought I was a good person.  I had never killed anyone.  I didn’t cheat people.  I wasn’t a liar.  I didn’t hurt people.  I didn’t steal.  I didn’t break the law.  I worked.  I paid taxes.  I was a nice person.  People seemed to enjoy my company, so why wouldn’t God?  I didn’t get it, at all.

I had gone to Church on Sunday since I was a child and I never once heard that I was an enemy of God.  No one told me that I was a sinner through and through, and thus I was at war with God.  I was on the losing side.  No one had ever told me I was deserving of God’s wrath.  The anger He poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah, His displeasure that came with the flood, and the righteous fury He will devastate the world with in Revelations is all something I was worthy of enduring.  I had earned such treatment.  No matter what justifications I could come up with, all of them will fall short of the Glory of God.  There was nothing I could do.  There is nothing I can say.  And it is a terrifying thought to sit in, to look at.  To know that I was against God, I was His adversary, I was His enemy.  Even though I thought I was good person.  Despite all my good deeds and good works I would still be destroyed.  I would still endure His wrath.

With that pulsing in my heart I look at the cross with new eyes.  I get what Paul was saying in Romans.  It is hard to find who will die for a righteous man.  Only a very small handful of people would even die for a good man.  We all like to say “I’d die for you” to the ones we love.  Some actually do this.  And we lift those people up, as we should.  Jesus commends the giving of our life for a friend.  But how many of us would give up our life for our enemy?  How many of us would be willing to get tortured, and then put to death for someone you are at war with?  Picture your enemy in your mind, bring that person’s face into your mind.  The person who hates you, persecutes you, ridicules you, and makes your life a living hell.  How many of us would give up everything in our lives to be tortured and put to death so that person could live?  I know I couldn’t do it.  I wouldn’t have the strength.  It takes a supernatural strength to do something like that.  It takes the Holy Spirit.

Jesus did that for me.  I was His enemy.  I was at war with Jesus as a non-believer.  I was in the crowd shouting “CRUCIFY HIM!”                 I was the soldier who hammered in the nails.  I was one of the guards who held the whip to scourge Him.  Judas betrayed Him for 30 silver; I would have done it for less.  I know all of this in my heart.  Jesus knows all of this about me in His heart.  And Jesus thought of me when each one of these happened.  He thought of me as He suffered.  He suffered each one of these things for me, His enemy.  He died the shame of the cross to reconcile me to God, to Himself.  So that when I stand before God I do not stand in the shadow of His wrath.  Instead I am bathed in the brilliant red light of Christ’s blood.  When God looks on me now He sees the righteousness of Jesus because I believed in Jesus and what He did.  All the wrath I have accrued, all the wrath I will accrue, was poured out on Jesus on the cross.  And Jesus went there willingly in my place, with me in mind, so I wouldn’t have to.

Through my faith in Jesus I am now justified.  I am cleansed.  I am now at peace with God.  I am in His good graces.  He poured out His grace on me through His only Son Jesus, and now I am able to be drenched to the core, full up and overflowing with, His grace if I only believe and trust His word.  The word above.  If I can hold to the truth of the scripture I read today in Our Daily bread.  Which is really hard for me considering I am going through the very thing it speaks about in the third verse.  My Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is coming back.  I have a lot of extreme, intense pain to look forward to.  I might lose more nerves in my leg.  I might lose my ability to walk again.  My foot is already swelling to the point that my shoe is hard to put on.  I will again have to be put on morphine, oxycodine, and gabapentin.  I will again lose the facilities of my mind.  I will again have to rely on other people to take me places because of my inability to drive.  I will have to rely on other people to help do every day things.  I fear the pain.  I am frustrated at the helplessness I know will come.  I really don’t want to do this again.  I don’t want this tribulation.

But just because I don’t want something doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a purpose and design through it.  Jesus didn’t want to be crucified, but God used it to save everyone who believes.  I know if I can trust the Bible that the world was made in six days that this should be no problem.  To worship God through tribulations does teach me how to persevere.  It also gives me a chance to understand a small portion of what Jesus went through.  It gives me a chance to draw closer to my Lord and Savior in a way others who don’t suffer can’t.  Because when I can’t walk, when I am weak, He is there to carry.

And I don’t know if that will help me build character, but it will help me grow and nurture a relationship with my Father, and with my Savior.  It will help me cultivate a prayer filled needful relationship with the Holy Spirit.  It will force me to rely on Them, rather than myself.  It will give me a more godly aspect to who I am, it will help draw me into Their intimate relationship in a way I couldn’t do if I wasn’t going to go through this again.  So maybe that is what Paul is talking about when he mentions character.  And if this is what he means he is right when he says this will lead to hope.

Hope is where I want to be.  Hope that it will be better.  Hope that I will be better, from the inside out.  Hope that people will see what the Lord is doing for me on the inside, rather than what I am experiencing in the world on the outside.  I have a hope that I can cleave to scripture and the truth of these words and others like that.  That when I am at my weakest, Jesus is my strength and He is strong enough.  Hope that I can trust in that without faltering and giving into my ‘what ifs’ or the here and now of pain.  Hope that my focus can remain vertical on all the good God is doing for me…..and I can shine His glory to the world…..rather than having my focus be horizontal and worldly and glow with the ache of circumstance.