Sunday School Series: A Higher Standard/Calling

9 02 2017

I bet God hears a lot of excuses.  If I could have a telephone wired to his ear, so that I could hear all of the prayer requests and conversations that Jesus’ people had with him, I’m sure I would hear a lot of excuses.  I’m sure I’d hear all of these perfectly valid* and honest reasons* for not being kind.  I’m sure I’d hear a lot of blaming* and I’d hear a lot of absolutely convincing* evidence that the person is doing the best they can.  (*=sarcasm).  I wonder how many of those excuses would be mine.  I wonder how many of those reasons I’ve used to validate myself or make myself feel better about the lack of commitment I’ve had/have today, when it comes to building my relationship with Jesus.

The thing we gotta realize is that excuses don’t cut it.  When we excuse our self out of opportunities to show growth or to show maturity, then we are truly misunderstanding the whole point of Jesus’ coming to earth.  See, prior to his coming, this personal relationship thing?  It didn’t really truly exist.  You worshiped as a corporate body.  God was over there, and we are over here.  When God came to earth, he ripped away the veil and was able to gain entrance into our hearts.  There’s no excuse that is worthy of giving a reason for not loving or for not caring for other people.  By excusing our behaviors or lack of behaviors, we are shying away from the responsibility of our call as a believer.  Excuses are of this world.  They’re not of the kingdom of heaven.  If we continue to make excuses, then we will live a life full of excuses, and not full of obedience and living.

Philippians 2:1-2:  Joy in Unity

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

It is not of this world for people to be in unity and not to be fighting.  In fact, all stories typically have a conflict that go with it.  One of the earliest things that I learned about the church is that you had to go.  Then, I learned why.  You go because of community, and wrapped up in the word community is the word unity.  See it there?  commUNITY.  You go because of the people there, you go to worship God.  You go because christians know that you can’t hope to grow unless you have a community that surrounds you, helping you, and encouraging you.  As a young kid, I disliked church, because it was the dreaded opportunity for me to have to wear a dress!  Gross!  But I learned something as I grew older and I wore pants, that the church is not designed to be an oppressive place, but a place of freedom and joy, a representation of the freedom and joy we have in our relationship with God.  We were not designed to grow and go through this life alone, we were designed for community because the trinity is community.  We were made for community, because it is only when we are in community that we can practice unity.

Paul is clear here, that if we have value in Christ and each other, then we must remain united.  There is no room for selfishness in unity.  We must remain supportive and we must be known by our love for each other.  Unless we do not have value in each other, then we will never rid ourselves of the selfish chains that attempt to hold us to ourselves.

We cannot hope to love each other, and to unite together if we do not understand that community/unity is expected of believers.  We cannot hope to embody the love of God if we do not hold each other to a high standard of unity.

But this comes at a great cost.  Be aware of this.  If I hold unity and community in high regards, then I must hold myself at a secondary regard.  There is no place for selfishness here, but each person submitting themselves for the sake of unity.  We must have all of the same priorities, the same desires, and advance them together for the sake of unity.  I do not think that this means that we lose our own individual personas, but on the contrary, we were all made differently so that we can approach the same goal from different angles.  If the goal is to love people, then each individual does that in their own unique way.

Philippians 2:3-4:  Humble Service

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We are called to a higher way of living, we are called to a new life of love and living together.  We are called of a different way to live.  This type of living is very foreign in our world.  It is so foreign that I almost feel confident in saying that many churches don’t have a hold on this type of living.  Our world teaches us that our selfish ways are the only way to get ahead.  We are supposed to look out only for our spheres of influences, and no one else.  The world teaches us to divide ourselves from each other, to keep arbitrary things like skin color, religion, money, music preferences and a whole other list of things that make us different from each other.  It does not tell us to look beyond our comfort zones and it does not tell us to see beyond our own little world.  It tells us to put our blinders on, and separate ourselves.  That, my friends, is not biblical and it is not loving.  This selfish attitude has unfortunately, permeated our Christian thought too.  We seem more concerned about all of the things that divide us, and more concerned about those that we can keep out of heaven than those that we can let into the fold.  We claim that God is the excluder, but then we ignore the prophecy found in Revelation.  In Revelation, it says that all sorts of people, all kinds of people will be found worshipping God.  Do you remember that?  Excluding people is not the way of the kingdom of God.  But we are often so closed off from everyone except those who exist in our own little worlds.  And that is selfish.

When we put others’ needs before our own comfortableness, we create an excuse for not sharing the gospel, or not living out the gospel.  When we follow scripture, we realize that our own ambitions are worthless, unless they benefit the people of God.  We must seek to erase the divides and love each other like our neighbors and love each other like family.  That’s hard.  Because that means that we have to eliminate the personal bias and prejudices that exist within us.  That means that we have to do the hard heart work.  And if we don’t do that, then we’re keeping ahold of our selfish superiority.  And that’s contrary to this scripture.

Humility isn’t something that you do, but it’s a process of showing people that they are important by decreasing our importance to ourselves.  This is an attitude that also applies to our relationship with God.  If we want to show humility then we gotta submit to God’s plans too.  We gotta realize how much wiser his ways are than ours.  This is something that’s so often talked about in this life, but if we were brutally honest, then I’m sure you could join me and say that surrender isn’t quite so easy.  If I were to truly surrender, then every summer, I would not search for another job, knowing full well that God has called me to the one I have.  But I still search, thinking that the grass is greener than where it is, and honestly, it probably is, but if I were to actually cross pastures, I am certain the grass would not taste as good as being in God’s will and purpose for my life.

Philippians 2:5-11:  An Example Worth Following

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place  and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We don’t have to look hard or far to find an example that is worth following.  We see an example for us clearly lined up for us and laid out clearly.  Quite simply, this is the message of the gospel.

The first instruction that the gospel message has for us here is that we gotta make our attitude just the same as Jesus’ attitude, and then it lists examples of that behaviors.  These specific behaviors are more than guidelines, they’re commands and commitments.  By following and doing them, we discover more of Jesus and his love.  We discover how to love each other by following that example.  If we refuse to follow this example, then we’re not true believers.  We’re not truly convinced of the saving power of the gospel to all people.  It’s one thing to preach the gospel, but believing it is another story.  If we can’t believe that it is our calling and our example, then there’s no reason for us to hold salvation to be true for ourselves.  We demonstrate our belief in this salvation story by allowing it to lead us and be a defining example for us.

Christ has a humble attitude and demeanor.  While Jesus was God, scripture is full of references to where he refers to God as his father.  Let’s take a minute.  To call someone a father is to refer to him as a superior person.  But, scripture says Jesus is equal to God?  How can that be?  Simply put, although Jesus had all honor as a son of God, he, in effect, took his crown off, and placed it on a throne and started working and walking around with beggars in plainclothes.  More than just that, he was selfless in his obedience to his father’s will.  We can see in the garden where he is struggling to accept the ultimate call of his obedience and purpose of life, in choosing to accept death on the cross.  But he made that commitment and he went  through with it, just like he said he would, even though it was difficult to do so.  He could have decided that he didn’t want to die for humanity at the last minute.  He could’ve been in so much pain that he could’ve just called a legion of angels to his rescue while he was on the cross.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t because he knew his purpose in life was to glorify God, and by his choice to be obedient, he would make salvation available to all people.  He accepted that call.  Regardless of how he was feeling.  When we have a humble attitude like Jesus, then we recognize the supreme lordship of God’s will over our lives and over our own desires.  When our plans are submissive to the will of God, then we are liberated from all of the choices that being “in charge” requires of us.  This is very hard.  It is not for the lighthearted.  It is easier said than done.  I’m still working on setting aside myself to the will and ways of God.

Christ followed up his submission with acts of obedience.  His method of obedience was in casting aside his deity, becoming a man and entering this world as a manger, surrounded by cattle and stinky, smelly sheep.  He became a carpenter who was essentially at the mercy of the hospitality of others.  He squatted to poop on the side of the road, probably experience bowel discomfort, battled illnesses and hurt feelings.  Our humility is nothing unless we follow that up in actions.  Christ did.  We cannot be humble and have no actions that back it up.  This is hard too.  This is the higher calling.  Humility means that we don’t get angry when someone hurts us.  We recognize that we too, are imperfect people, and so when people make us more aware of that fact (through hurting us), we find no offense in it.  When we make a mistake, we admit it first, we are not stubborn, but we look out for the best of others, and correct those mistakes.  This is really hard.  Truly hard.  It would be easier to never forgive someone when they hurt them, or refuse to admit that we made a mistake.  But at what cost?  We ruin relationships that way.

The benefits of Christs’ humility benefits us all.  In the same way, others are benefited by our humility.  Because Christ was humble, he is now lifted up and exalted, given a special seat at the right hand of the father.  This is very backwards, but from my experience with the Kingdom of God, it’s pretty all backwards there anyways, so it fits right in!  There, the last are first and the first are last, the humble is exalted and the proud is cast down.  If we want to take ahold of heaven, if we want to enter the gates of glory, then we must follow his example.  We must follow up our faith in actions of service and love.  We must not allow our pursuits or loves to overshadow our love for God and our desire to see him work in our lives.  Because we have his example, we are able to experience grace, and we have benefited from his humility.  In the same way, others benefit when we are humble and we are able to approach them with an attitude of grace and love.

It’s obvious to me that the call of Jesus is a call to a higher standard of living.  It is a very difficult one.  Jesus even said it would be hard.  It’s not easy to look at the face of your enemy and offer the other cheek when he already slapped you.  It’s not easy to volunteer to go the extra mile with someone when they won’t help you the same way.  It’s not easy to allow people to hurt you without striking back or getting defensive.  Simply put, the call of Jesus is not easy and it’s not human and very un-American.  But like I said, it is a higher standard of living.

Because after all, our lives are not about us, are they?


Peace and love,


For My Good!

26 05 2016

Author’s Note:  I didn’t mean to take a break from the Fruits of the Spirit series….this topic just could not get off of my heart and I learned so much from writing this post and I hope you do the same!

It’s a different experience to hear the news secondhand than it is to experience it.  Everyday, thousands of newscasters report on the events of the world, but I rarely think that those who experienced the event firsthand, rely on these newscasts to inform them of what happened.  But, once the event happens, there’s no way for us to go back in time for us to move from being a second-hand observer who learned about something on the news, to becoming a first-hand participant.  The man who served in a war, can never move to being a second-hand observer.  He felt the heat of battle, the sting of death, the brush of bullets and bombs.  The person who hears about a riot cannot experience the riot itself personally.

I used to think that the disciples, they really had it made.  They were first-hand observers of Jesus.  They walked with him, smelled his body odor and they ate with him.  They were shocked by him, cried with him and slept near him.  What an experience that must have been!  I used to get jealous, because I thought that if I only walked with Jesus and saw the miracles, then surely, my faith would be like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds that produces the largest of results!  But then, I read some scripture that Jesus shared with them, John 16:7, which says “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  Wow!  That verse is really powerful.  Jesus starts it out saying, “this is the truth” and then he drops the bomb on them  “It is for your good that I am going away.”  I would have disagreed with my friend, if I were a disciple.  I mean, sure I know that he’s the creator of the universe and all, but I would miss him.  My life was made complete by having him in my life and it was made better with him.  He made me wine out of water, fish and bread out of nothing, provided growth and love and companionship, where I didn’t feel it before.  I found acceptance, despite my lack of faith or ability to trust, despite my low social status, I found love.  And to think that this source of love and friendship was going to leave me, and I was going to be better off than when he left me?  That’s preposterous!  That would mean that I would be moving out of a relationship with Jesus and then back to life as normal!

A Second-hand Watcher
This type of person is a benchwarmer, so to speak.  A benchwarmer is a part of a team, but they often miss out on the real action of the game.  They may be substituted in and step up once in a while, but they are not a consistently actively involved person.  If I, as a disciple, would’ve went back to my life as usual, then I would be considered a second-hand watcher.  I am someone that knows the expectation, because it was clearly explained and outlined to me by Jesus, but instead of living up to the expectation, I simply expect it to happen to me!  When the day is over, I’ve neither contributed to the game as a whole nor detracted from it.  I have simply floated along and have nothing to show for my time with Jesus.  Instead, I have evidence of my existence, but not much beyond that.

To me, this sounds very similar to that of the experience in the Christian church.  Honestly, if we want to criticize the world and our society for being “godless” and going against the call of God, we have to first look at ourselves.  Matthew 7:3-5 says “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Although it seems that Jesus is talking about the companionship from believer to believer.  I think it can expand beyond that.  I don’t think that he means that the way we relate to each other is not applicable to the way we relate to other people in the world.  We must give respect and love to the people who are around us, regardless of the shared faith or lack of shared faith.  I honestly think that Jesus means for us to treat our Christian brothers and sisters with the same regard as we give to those who believe different from us.  And vice versa.  Think about that.  And vice versa.  It’s harder to make us look at ourselves than it is to criticize the world.  Before we even think about criticizing others, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves, and how we have failed to be anything more than a benchwarmer.  Jesus tells us that it is shameful for us to criticize our brother, when we are guilty of having issues that keep us from growing.  WE cannot criticize the world and its policies without first critically examining ourselves.  And honestly, if we had been doing so all along, we would not be the secondhand observers that the world knows us as.  Shortly speaking, it is the church’s fault that our society has felt the diminishing impact of the church upon that society.  We stopped doing the things that make us active participants, and started warming the pews, and being content with Sunday being the only day reserved for God.  Instead of remembering 1 Corinthians 13:1, we gave Christianity a bad name by clanging out our objections without love.  And we were not growing spiritually.  We were not making disciples of Christ.  WE were simply living our lives and going to church on Sunday, and somehow, we thought it would be enough.


Active Participant
Who wins the games?  Who handles the trophy?  Who goes down in the sports halls of fame?  It’s not those that keep the bench from floating off the game floor, it’s the people who are the active players and do whatever it takes to be successful.  It is the ones who intend to accomplish something, who are intentional about what they do.  Active players don’t just wait around for skills and special abilities to happen to them, they are the ones that continuously strive to become better and the ones that desire very greatly to be better players.  Players don’t wait for life to happen, they don’t wait for accomplishments to just be handed to them or spontaneously occur.  Instead, they devote afternoons, hours to improvement.  Each practice, they show up, regardless of how they emotionally feel about getting out to practice, and they practice, knowing each practice makes them better, stronger.  Excuses don’t matter, because if it is important to you, you make time for it, no matter what.

The more and more I study Jesus and the more and more I read the gospels, the clearer it becomes to me that he expects me to realize that belief doesn’t matter all that much, unless its an active thing.  Until we believe it so much that we live it, we will never learn more than mere drops of grace and small fractions of love.  We will not learn how to love people a smidgen of the way that we are supposed to, the way that Jesus loves us.  Unless we get off of the bench and get in the game, the Bible will be mere words of fiction, Jesus is a mythical character and love is a construction paper cut-out heart.  Matthew 7:3-5 says “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  When we are not active participants, yet we are pulling out planks out of others’ eyes and criticizing others and not critically looking at ourselves, we fail to embody the call of Christianity.  We fail to be the lovers of people that we are called to be.  We fail.  That’s it.  Until we get off the bench and are actively growing, we have no idea what our faith really calls us to do and be for others.

Well, that’s all well and good-but how do we get off the bench?  From what I understand, spiritual growth has several components:

  • You must spend time in the Word with God.  It’s not enough to just read the Bible, we must also understand the meaning behind those special words.
  • Pray and ask God that he will help you find understanding, and apply that understanding of the scripture into your life and into the interactions you have with other people. He will teach you how to interact with others in love.
  • Seek to serve God through the church and on an individual level. Use your natural talents to help you figure out how to serve God and others.
  • When given the opportunity to share your faith, do it! Your story is an experience that they can’t take away from you.  What God has done in you, they can’t contest.
  • Remain faithful to your growing relationship with God. It’s easy to let the emotional fire die, but remember that there are some things work committing to doing despite how you feel.

Don’t let the excuses get in your way.  We can make anything an excuse.  Don’t.   If this is truly important to you, and if you believe that your faith makes a difference, you will see the fatality in  being a bystander.  If it is worth it, you will make the time.  If it is meaningful, you will choose to remain faithful and committed, despite the feelings or excuses.  Be warned though, the excuses are overbearing.  The task is difficult because it involves a departure from your selfish way of things.  It may ask you to sacrifice, it may hurt you a little bit, but you will grow.

Take encouragement though.  Jesus said once says “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  The thing that makes it different for us than it does for the disciples, is that we have never experienced the human Jesus.  We have the Holy Spirit inside us, instead!  How cool is that!  See, Jesus isn’t interested in us depending on him for physical or depending on his physical presence for us to gain his assurance and peace in his presence.  Instead, he wants to reside in us!  How cool is that!?  Our assurance and security does not rest in the physical presence of Jesus, but in the unending presence of the Holy Spirit.  And this is for our benefit!  How cool!  This is for my good!  It is for my good that I am an active participant and not a benchwarmer.  It is for my good that I am growing!

And let it be for your benefit as well!


Unity and Love

22 12 2015

It’s no secret that I am someone who both loves and despises the church from the both double-edged sword.  It’s no secret that I have been hurt by remarks that those people of the church have made.  It’s also no secret that I surround myself with people who also have been hurt by statements that the church has made.  It’s no secret that the church has personally metaphorically stabbed and wounded those that I love.  I see images like this…..


and this….



and it is upsetting.  (Just for the record, I did a public google image search and found these images.)  I see so much hate spewing out of the american church, and I see so much violence being advocated for, and it is hurtful.  I hear and see my friends struggle to be loving and accepting of these awful words.  I talk to people who have been force-fed the doctrine of Christianity by people who are not living a relationship with Christ.  I watch videos and hear things on the news of people proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ but in the same breath, condemning those who don’t look like or act like they do.

For so long, I’v64e1a24e6e9dedca1656322d1b0fd754e used this image, to bring to mind the core tenants of the faith, to justify my feeling of superiority to those who aren’t able to follow this command.  This image portrays the message that Jesus gave, when he gave the command to love thy neighbor.  And the modern American Christian will give all of these objections as reasons not to love “thy neighbor.”  For so long, it seems like we like to define who our neighbor is.  I imagine many times, that Jesus wants to look at us like this:

56868885And the reality is, that he is truly qualified to do so.

I get so angry with people when they don’t follow this simple command that Jesus gave us, and I get so angry when they try to make up all of these excuses for not loving someone, instead of just following the command, because that implies two things:

  1.  That it is perfectly valid that people have to meet certain standards in order to receive grace.
  2. We have the power to decide who is worthy of being loved.

Neither of which is true.

When I entered into a relationship with God, he didn’t require me to change.  He didn’t give me a three point improvement plan.  He didn’t tell me about the ways that my life would have to be gotten in order.  He simply said “I accept you as you are.”  He called to me, wanting a relationship with me, and I responded likewise.  It is through consistent contact and communication, that he makes me more like him.  The things he has changed are not typical.  The glaringly obvious things that you would think he would work on…he hasn’t.  This isn’t to say that he won’t…but he just hasn’t yet.  In that same sense, that is the way in which I should love people.  If I am to embody the love of God, then I love people as they are, and accept them as best as I can, not demanding that they change.  Not pouting and screaming til the tears come down, until someone finally molds to my will and desires.  If I am to be the love of God, the hands and feet and arms and ears of God on this earth, then I am to do just that.  Serve wholeheartedly, go where needed, embrace in love and listen without reserve.  That’s it.  I don’t get to decide who I do and don’t serve.  I don’t get to decide where I do and don’t go.  I don’t get to decide who I do and don’t hug.  I don’t get to decide whose words are worth listening to and whose words aren’t worth listening to.  That decision is not up to me.

But where does that leave me with the American church, as a whole?  It’s very obvious.  My job is to love.  Even when I don’t believe that those beliefs are right, my job is to love.  I am to serve those, even when I disagree with them, I am to serve without reserve, as unto the Lord.  My job is to love.  I am to go, where and when I am needed, no matter what, and be present where I am placed, even if the person I am being present for, has made derogatory remarks that place my friends in a category.  I am to hug, and spread love, and make sure that all I encounter know of the love of God through me, even when I don’t want to do so.  I am to listen, without reserve, and allow their opinion’s value, as an individual to override any of my own beliefs.  If I want to see the American church changed, then I have to be changed myself.  I have to cast aside my self-righteous opinion of being better than the above pictures, and I have to love them.  My job is not to change them but to love them.

And that goes along with the second lie that we try to convince ourselves which is true, the lie that we have the decision to make and decide who is worthy of being loved.  The problem is, it’s not our job.  It’s not my job to decide who I am supposed to love.  I’m supposed to love everybody, no conditions.  I am supposed to love my gay friend who hates when her family speaks words from the Bible at her, condemning her to hell.  I am supposed to love the family that speaks those words at her.  I am supposed to love both the victim and the oppressor.  Does that mean that I allow the oppressor to continue to be oppressing?  No.  That means that I love the victim enough to make the oppressor think of their actions.  Does that mean that I allow the victim to lash out at their oppressor?  No, that means I encourage the victim to step outside of their frame of perspective and into the oppressor, and seek for understanding.

But where does that leave me in the church?  Where does that leave me when I see the majority not conforming to my perspective?  maxresdefault

There’s an old chorus that my church sings quite often, and the words are pictured to the right.  The thing is, we all have the creepy uncle.  We all have the aunt we’d rather not talk about.  We all have the black sheep of our family, and I happen to mostly be the weird one in mine.  But the thing about family is, I cannot change the fact that I have the biological characteristics of my father’s demeanor.  I cannot change that I walk like my grandfather.  I cannot change that my body is shaped like my mother’s   I cannot change that I have blonde hair like her.  Fair skin like my grandfather.  I cannot eliminate the impact that my family has had upon the shaping of who I am.  And, I cannot just simply ignore them, I don’t get to choose who my family is.

And if the church of God is my family.  If all Christians are my brothers and sisters, then even Westboro Baptist Church is my brother and sister.  Even the fearmongerers who hate Obama, they’re my brother and sister.  I can’t decide that they have not received Grace.  I can’t decide that they’re not going to heaven.  That’s not my job.  That’s God’s job.  My job is to love them, and to do so in the best way that I know how.  Does this mean that I unite with them?  Yes.  Does it mean that I agree with them?  No.

What does this mean?

I’ve been revealed that unity is more important than my self-righteous opinions.  Unity is more important than my pride.  Holding back my tongue for the sake of unity is more important than sounding my beliefs like a big brass cymbal.

Instead of making sure that I am heard, and that my opinion is out there, right now, my instruction is to wait, love and expect God to change what needs to be changed.  And lately?  It’s been me more than others.


Mental Illness, Faith and the Response of the Church

30 08 2015

This topic has been really floating around in my head alot lately.  I’ve been thoughtfully and prayerfully considering this post, because I didn’t want to be doing so insensitively, but as I was driving home tonight, I saw a sign on the road that made me realize how much I was being led to write about this subject.  This is a personal thing for me, because I have seen numerous times, how people have used the so-called ‘gospel’ to make people feel bad about their mental illnesses and hang-ups.  And that’s just not the “good news,” that I know and love.

The sign that I saw on the side of the road said this:  “We are too blessed to be depressed.”  When I first started to deal with my anxiety, my well-meaning Christian friends told me that my anxiety was a direct result of my own failure to trust God enough, that I was allowing my worries to overtake my life.  Those who deal with self-harm, are often met with the critique that they are “desecrating the temple of God” and they should stop.  Those who deal with an eating disorder, we just plop a big ol’ plate of fried chicken, taters and a biscuit in front of them, and tell them to eat.

The problem with all of these approaches is that in each response, the church tends to (as a whole) critique the surface problems, instead of understanding the deeper, underlying problem.  Unfortunately, we gloss over a lot of the biology of these mental illnesses, and instead, we like to see each mental illness as a “choice” that these people make.  We gloss over the impact that our words can have upon these people, and we gloss over the impact that previous well-meaning words have negatively influenced those with mental illnesses.

It’s really interesting to observe, the difference between the way we treat mental illness and the way we treat those who are on the exterior walls of our churches.  I mean this figuratively, of course.  By exterior walls, I mean those that the church normally excludes.  For some reason, we (myself included) get so high and mighty, and we get so wrapped up in our own little worlds, that we forget that the ‘good news’ is all about including everyone into the family of God, mental illnesses and all.  Beyond that, that the message of grace is open to those whom it wouldn’t seem that the message of grace should be for.  In this category, I include those people who are on the fringes.  I include the prostitutes, tax collectors, other sinners.  Funny how that list includes the kinds of people that Jesus hung out with.

Until recently mental illness was one of those fringe people.  If you had a mental illness, you weren’t typically open to discussing it, and often, it would never be discussed.  Until recently, those who had some sort of mental issue were not found to be open about it, and you might never know that a person dealt with depression or eating disorders or whatever else other tribulation that people can face within their head.  The sad part about it is, that as a church, we still keep those people on the fringes.  We still are unable to respond with compassion and empathy.

We fail to respond like this because we lack understanding.  We demonstrate our lack of understanding, by saying that depressed people need to suck it up and smile.  We demonstrate our lack of concern for those who have anxiety, by focusing on the failure of the person, and not the reality of the trials that the person is facing within their mind.  We demonstrate lack of care when we write off those with bipolar tendencies as “possessed” or “under the influence of evil spirits.”  We ignore the self-harmers’ deeper-set issues and insecurities, by blaming them for the desire they have to hurt themselves.  We show how ignorant we are to those who have an eating disorder, when we set a full plate in front of them, expecting this action to cure them.  This is not only the response of the church, but sometimes, it’s the response of society as a whole.

The people who deal with these issues, rarely simply deal with the issues themselves, but there is a deeper-set issue that is there, and there are more things at play than just the issue.  For example, in my own experience of anxiety, this comes rooted from abandonment and trust issues, as well as insecurity in myself and the things that I know.  Once I get into that, it spirals into a panic attack about the unknown and the future, and the things that scare me, including opening my heart to someone new.  I fixate on certain things and people, as if that fixation will help me, and sometimes, I find the self-destruct button on my life, and I could choose to press it, and expel everyone in my life.  This isn’t typical.  But from my experience, nothing of those things have to do with my doubt in God or the doubt in God to take care of me.  That’s secure and settled.

Maybe our mental issues don’t have anything to reflect in our faith in God.  Perhaps the mental issues we face are just another symptom of our fallen world, and all of the bad things that are in that world.  Maybe the mental roadblocks that some people face has nothing to do with our faith and trust in God, but more to do with the fact that we are somehow made imperfectly, and they’re there to help us to realize the gap between ourselves and God.  Maybe they’re there to make us more thankful that even though we are flawed, we can still be used to spread love and hope and joy.  Maybe our mental illness and the issues we face can be turned outward to be a blessing to others, a chance for each other to walk in love and in community, instead of shaming the individual, to accept that we are trying as best as we can to allow ourselves to be gently healed in time, by the creator, and in the meantime, using this to connect us to each other.  Maybe we’re not meant to shame each other as we are, but instead, we are meant to share our stories to encourage each other, and give each other a common ground.  Maybe instead of shaming each other, we can use these very same things we once saw as shameful to be a beautiful asset that makes us who we are, and gives us our character and makes us better people, a more compassionate people.

As long as our first concern is ourselves, we will never be able to use anything to turn the focus on God and what God has done and is doing.  But when we focus on mental illness as a failure on the part of the person, we completely focus on humanity, instead of the perfect one from whom all blessings flow.

That’s a lot of pressure.  And it’s too much for anxiety girl.

Easter Reflection-Friday or Sunday?

20 04 2014

I hate the thing that says “there are two kinds of people….” and then someone introduces the dividing line between different groups of people.  I know that I do this quite often, I truly do.  I meditated upon this fact and reflected upon this, and realized that I think we have enough dividing lines drawn across the race of humanity, so I’m hoping that from this point on, I’ll stop creating these dividing lines.  

So instead of asking you which one you are, and how you respond, I am simply going to explain two of the personas of the types of people who profess to be Christians, and you can add to it, or take it what you will.  These two personas explain a whole lot about the believers that make up the Christian church, and I think it provides some insight into the church as a whole.  I hope you find encouragement in this.

Friday People

In saying that a person is a Friday person, I refer not to the fact that “hey!  It’s the weekend, let’s party!” Or “I don’t have to work tomorrow, I can sleep in!!”  In the significance of the Easter story, the thing that determines which one of the two perspectives I am mentioning in today’s segment, if you are a Friday person, your outlook, perspective and frame of mind is based upon the perspectives of the believers on that Friday crucifixion day.  

When you look at that Friday, you see an innocent man on a cross, the most gruesome and public ways a person can die.  You see him surrounded by these followers, who had hope that he would not die on this cross, and you see the blood and water pour out of the side.  You hear the ripping of the veil in the tabernacles, you see the darkened sky.  You hear the wails of weeping and mourning among the disciples and believers.  The “righteous” Sadducees and Pharisees are walking away from this scene, victorious, dusting themselves off, patting each other on the back, and going home to rejoice that this pain-in-the-butt-Jesus is dead, no longer around to put them in their places.  They thought themselves superior to judge the heart of one man and demand his death, simply because he disagreed with them.  They left him to die, and he died.  Those who followed Jesus were devastated.  Death is devastating, especially when it’s a friend who has promised to rise again, to defeat death.  

People who are Friday believers, feel it is more necessary to focus on the unworthiness of sinners and how demented and lost all people are.  They focus on the badness of people, and how horrific people can be.  They look at the realities of life, without giving a real reason for redemption.  They are often self-righteous, and deem themselves worthy to judge others, their hearts and write them off as inferior.  People who are Friday Christians, often live in defeat, because they look at their present circumstances and see no way out.  They see no way to overcome their struggles and are overwhelmed with the task of continuing to struggle.  They mingle in their similar circles, never seeing need to reach out to others who are hurting, or noticing the need for hope in those who are having a hard time.  They blame the person, say they’ve brought those hard times upon themselves, than see that there’s more than meets the eye.  They do not welcome those who may not fully agree with them, or may challenge them to change their perspectives.  Instead of looking at the individual person, they make cut and dry statements that do not acknowledge the humanity of the person or the need to consider that person as an equal.  

Sunday Believers

On that Resurrection day, it paints quite a different story here.  On that morning, you see two women approaching the tomb, and the stone that sealed the tomb is cast aside, a heavenly messenger tells them that Jesus has indeed defeated death.  You see them run to tell the disciples, who then run to the tomb and go away from the tomb, praising God.  They later see Jesus in the flesh, see his scars, feel his touch and know that he is alive.  The defeat and demons they dealt with on Friday are gone on Sunday, for the story did not end there.  There was more to come.

Those who are Sunday believers, realize that the focus of the entire Bible and our faith, is on not the fallen-ness of humanity, but the generous grace of God.  The way that God worked it all out, and made his plan come to being.  The plan was made out of the love of God for all of humankind, and the fact is, our faith should also reflect that.  They are motivated to share the good news, because it is contagious, and they have a hope.  The hope is in the fact that hopefully, one day soon, there will be a day where the believers will be all reunited, body and soul, together.  This, they call, heaven.  This earth is full of pain and sorrow, and the church, faith is not there to make people feel worse about themselves, it’s to encourage them to continue to look forward to getting out of the struggles.  But in the meanwhile, there are things to be done, and growth to happen.  Discipleship is not an option, it’s a requirement, in that the person feels driven and compelled to spend time with God in the hopes that they will continue to be made like God.  They are humbled by the love and grace of God, and they see people as their equals.  Humbly, they see the need to unite for a common cause.  In addition, progress is advocated for, simply because that is the coming kingdom, and they are actively moved by the spirit in the process, and see the need to validate humanity and all people, through as many avenues as possible.  They’re moving beyond what the rules say, and into the heart behind the keeping of the laws.  Realizing it is wrong to steal not because of a law, but because to steal is to not love their fellow human being.

If I am honest, there’s a little bit of both in me.  I am sure that there are more things I can say about both, but this is enough for me for right now.  

Why I Have to Believe

2 04 2014

I was sitting here thinking of some various particular things and scenarios that are going on in my life right now.  I am exaimining some struggles that not only myself have, but others as well….and don’t worry, this isn’t a counseling session, where I talk about all my feelings and all that I’m going through.  

Recently, I’ve been having something of a ‘crisis of faith.’  When I say recently, I would say the last 4 years of my life have been chaotic, and I have not known what to believe, or how to believe in something other than myself.  I wasn’t sure that if I really believed.  I mean, it’s all so incredible, the story that faith teaches us.  How can it be real?  How can people believe in something they can’t see?  It’s ridiculous.

And I’m right.  It is ridiculous.  This life that we live is so ridiculous and so frustrating.  The cards that are in my deck are not always the same cards in your deck.  Some people get a really shoddy deck.  Some people get an okay deck.  And some people, they have this amazing, pristine deck of cards.  Mine are a little worn, some are bent, there’s probably something spilled on them.  I know at least one or two cards are torn.  

Go with me on this metaphor for a moment.  I have to believe that the deck of cards I have right now is not the only deck I have.  Because if this deck is all I’ve got, then there’s really no reason for me to hope, to strive for goodness, to find peace, to help others, to love even.  And loving is the greatest gift I can give another person.  I have to believe that this deck of cards is not it, and that one day, all of us will be given a new deck of cards.  

This world and this life….can suck.  Majorly.  It hurts to live sometimes.  It hurts to love sometimes.  I have to believe that the best is yet to come.  Because if the best is not yet to come….well, to me, it’s almost a suicidal thought.  The thought is so depressing and so heartbreaking that I simply can’t survive.  I can’t go on living my life in the way that it is.  

There are people that are out there who simply exist to hurt other people and to cause pain and suffering to others.  The justice part of me has to believe that this is the only heaven they will ever have.  I don’t know if I believe in a hell, but I do think that I believe in death, and death can be pretty scary.  Ceasing to exist?  How do you love then?  I have to believe that those who have done nothing good in their lifetime, like murderers or something like that, I have to believe that to those people, their deck is all they get.  

And there are people out there who struggle.  People who get handed a deck stacked with cancer, disability.  People whose decks are wrecked with heartache, with people walking out on them, people who have had to bandage their cards back together…I have to believe that this is the only hell they’ll ever know.  I have to believe that those of us who try to be a good person, who try to love other people and embody that spirit of unselfish love…I have to believe that this life is only the worst of it.

To totally reject religion and to welcome the idea that this life is all there is….that, to me, seems like a very depressing worldview.  I can’t survive in that reality and in that perspective.  I have to go somewhere else when I die.  I have to.  This can’t be all of it.  It just can’t.  I have to believe that I live on, and that my spirit will last beyond my life.  I have to.