Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

What you miss by being a Christian

Today as I was walking into the grocery store an older gentleman, with kind eyes, handed me a pamphlet. The front of it said in big bold letters: “What you miss by being a Christian”. As a chronic people-pleaser I have a hard time saying no to people handing out fliers, samples, or anything else that’s given freely and with a smile. So I stuck the pamphlet in my purse and later, when I got back to my office, I pulled it out to throw away. But curiosity got the best of me and I opened it up to see what it said.

In big bold letters it read HELL! (complete with exclamation point). And then it proceeded to list a number of Bible verses that describe hell.

Um, OK. That will get a person’s attention. Although, probably not in the way this gentleman was hoping.

Yes, of course as a Christian I believe the only way to eternal salvation is through Jesus Christ. And yes, I believe in hell, and based on the descriptions I’ve read in scripture, it does not sound like a fun place to spend eternity. But, is that the best message to send non-believers? Is a message meant to motivate with fear and threats really the best way to draw people to Jesus? Forgive me, but if I was a non-believer, I don’t think that’s the message that would do it for me.

I don’t mean to dismiss the truth behind scripture, or make light of it, but I do think there is more to the complete picture of Christianity that needs to be shared with non-believers, and would probably better serve to pique their interest.

So, I decided to come up with my own list of 4 things I miss out on by being a Christian.

  1. Condemnation – Romans 8:1-2 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

    I don’t know about you, but there is plenty in this world already telling me I am not enough — I’m not smart enough, thin enough, rich enough, successful enough, pretty enough, etc. As a believer, though, I know those are lies from the enemy. I am not enough on my own, but through Jesus Christ I am freed of all my short-comings and sin, and that means no guilt for all the ways I fall-short, no shame for my past mistakes, and no condemnation for the mistakes I have yet to make.

     

  2. Being unloved – “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

    As the Beatles said, “all you need is love.” But so often we believe that love needs to come from a spouse, a friend, a parent, or a child. When we don’t feel like we are loved the way we want, or don’t have those relationships, it can make us feel completely unloveable, or even unworthy of love. But scripture says that I am loved, and you are loved, by our heavenly Father. And he has proven His love to us in the most spectacular way, by giving up His own son in order to save us, to spend eternity with us. Once you know and accept that truth, it’s hard to ever feel unloved again.

     

  3. Fear – Being unloved leads to number three, fear. In 1 John it goes on to say that “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them…Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:15, 18)

    Fear comes in many forms. It can be a fear of punishment, as John mentions in this scripture, it can be a fear of failure, a fear of death, a fear of loneliness, fear for our children’s future, etc. But whatever the source of our fear, it can always, always be declared a lie. Because God’s love has no room for fear. To know Him and accept His love is to accept that we need not be afraid of punishment, failure, death, loneliness, the future, or anything else! His love protects, it has our very best interests, and it will never leave us.

  4. Having to do it all on my own (aka self-reliance) – For me this one goes a little bit with condemnation because when I fall into the trap of thinking I have to “do it all” alone, the guilt and condemnation are usually quick to follow when I inevitably realize I cannot do it all. But this is also about casting aside the loneliness that comes with thinking “it’s all up to me”. Anyone who has ever felt like success or failure was riding on their shoulders knows it’s a lonely place to be. Whether you’re a single mom, the CEO of a company, or just an introverted overachiever (raises hand), it can be easy to feel all the weight and pressure of being “the one” responsible for it all. But God says: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness in an uninhabited salty land. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat  or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

    We have a choice — try and do it on our own and feel like dried up shrubs in the desert, or rely on God and be perpetually replenished, strengthened, and productive. When we become Christians and learn that we are never alone, and do not have to rely solely on our own strength and abilities, then the pressure and loneliness no longer have a place in our lives.

These are four things that I no longer have room for in my life because I know God and have a relationship with Jesus. And I can tell you that I don’t miss them one bit.

Featured photo by Robert Koorenny on Unsplash

This hard season of parenting? It’s temporary

This year the journey to spring has seemed like two steps forward, one step back, with 75 degree days followed by 12 inches of snow two days later. And right now everything just seems like a big sopping wet mess outside.

It’s pretty much how parenting feels, especially lately. It’s been 2 steps forward, one step back, sometimes feeling like I am knee-deep in mud and muck. Maybe you’re there, too.

Maybe you have just come out of a hard season with one child, seeing light on the horizon, only to have another one completely fall apart.

Maybe you have a child with a mental illness, disease, or learning disability and after months of doctor’s appointments, teacher conferences, medication changes, therapy, etc. you start to see improvement. Maybe even a few good weeks go by and you start to exhale a little bit and think the worst is behind you, and then suddenly you get the call. Your child has a bad day. A really bad day. And it feels like you’re right back where you were, with no end in sight.

Maybe you have a baby who has been crying for 6 months and not sleeping and you are 100 days past exhausted and weary to your bones. But then 4, 5, 6 nights in a row she sleeps. You sleep! It’s bliss! You start to feel semi-human again. Then on night seven she screams for six hours straight and you are on the floor next to the crib sobbing with her, wondering how anyone could handle this.

And you’re thinking, “One month! All I want is one month where everything is smooth sailing and everyone is healthy and happy. Is that too much to ask God? Why can’t we catch a break? Why does this keep happening to our family? Why?”

You’re knee-deep in the mud and the muck. And the glimpse of easy, smooth, and happy almost seems cruel if it’s going to be taken away. What’s one warm and sunny day if it’s going to be followed by more bitter cold?

But then, where did we get the idea that parenting is a straight path and you have to choose to either move forward or go backwards? Or that the end of a harsh season signified the beginning of a warm one? Who sold us this picture of parenting? And for goodness sake, why did we buy it?

Parenting, like the weather, is unpredictable. Seasons come and go, but not in a neat and orderly fashion. God’s word tell us that to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

a time to weep and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn and a time to dance;

a time to get, and a time to lose;

It does not say, however, that the weeping ends when the laughter begins. Or that once you start dancing, there will be no more mourning. Nowhere does God promise that our time of loss will be short and our time of prosperity plentiful. Only that there will be time for both.

Maybe the point is not to simply endure the hard winters of parenting, while you wait for spring to arrive. Maybe the point is to look for the beauty that can be found in each, knowing that God has promised there is purpose in it all.

This post originally appeared on the Neither Height Nor Depth Facebook Page.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Don’t let your dreams breed discontent

Reach for the stars!

Hard work and sacrifice pay off!

Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality!

She believed she could, and so she did!

If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it!

I think most of us have heard some or all of these motivational phrases during our lives, maybe we’ve even said a few to encourage our friends or children. Maybe we have posters hanging in our office or classroom with these or similar maxims.

{raises hand}

Chasing after super-sized goals and bold dreams is a beautiful thing. I think it connects us to our humanity. It crosses the divides of age, gender, culture, race, and religion. It’s how progress is made and change is initiated.

But there seems to be a growing wariness around the connection between dreaming big and feeling discontent. Especially among women.

Never have women had more opportunities available to us than we do today. Thanks to better access to quality education, greater opportunities for start-up businesses, and, let’s face it, social media, there’s been a rise in successful, seemingly “self-made” women cheering on the rest of us with their mantras of “lean-in”, “stop apologizing”, and just “say yes”. Women can now “brave the wilderness”, “live beyond fear”, and discover that “the universe has our back”. It all sounds so enticing doesn’t it? Wrapped up in pretty paper covered packages, it seems like success is just within our reach.

But is it?

Now please don’t misunderstand, this is not a criticism of these books or the authors, some of whom I happen to respect and admire. Admittedly, I have not read most of the mentioned books, and for all I know some of them may be chock-full of sound advice and truth. But what I do read are articles, blog posts and letters from women who feel like they are not enough. I hear friends share the overwhelming amount of anxiety and pressure they feel to do more, be more, achieve more. I see my daughters, still teenagers, combating an image of perfection that they believe they must achieve in everything they try. And I have battled my own feelings of discontent and failure — both professionally and personally.

Here’s what I don’t hear or read much of:

“I’m so happy with my life, right where it is.”

“God has blessed me with a season where I can slow down and smell the roses.”

“I am enough. Right here, right now, just as I am. I am enough.”

And it concerns me that we’ve mistaken chasing after dreams as an obligation to be more. We’ve misunderstood our goals to be a yard stick showing us just how we measure up (or don’t) based on achievement. We’ve decided our resumes are a better indication of our value and worth than our hearts.

It’s so damaging. So detrimental. So not in alignment with God’s calling for our lives.

God has no problem with us dreaming big or achieving success. Some of God’s chosen were very successful in life — just look at Job, Boaz, Joseph, and David. But God does make it clear that any success we have is to bring him glory. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

This is where I think some of the modern day mantra of chasing our dreams and striving for success falls short. So often the ones touting their own success — and their six simple steps to achieving our own — make it all about them, or me, or we. But never about He.

As long as we are dreaming big and striving for that glass ceiling as a means to bring recognition and praise to our own name, we are inevitably going to feel a sense of discontent. Even when we achieve a big milestone or goal, the feeling of satisfaction will be temporary, and we’ll already be looking at the next great thing; because when it’s all about us, it’s never enough.

When it’s all about me, having 2,000 people read my blog is not enough. When it’s all about Him, having one person touched or encouraged by something I wrote is enough.

When it’s all about me, having the same mid-level job for ten years is not enough. When it’s all about Him, working hard, demonstrating kindness and respect to my coworkers is enough.

When it’s all about me, staying home all day wiping noses, folding clothes, preparing meals, and vacuuming carpets is not enough. When it’s all about Him, loving on my children and caring for my family is enough.

When it’s all about me, pastoring a church with 75 members and never enough in the collection plate is not enough. When it’s all about Him, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and shepherding even one of those 75 is enough.

I’m not saying to throw in the towel and stop dreaming. I’ve still got big dreams for this little blog and my tiny, start-up ministry. But I also know that whatever success I have is only because of Him, and only so that I can bring Him glory. If my work leads to 10 more people knowing His name that will be a much greater success than 10,000 people knowing mine.

 

Success

Cover photo by Katrina on Unsplash

Truth, not cliches

I have a problem. Or maybe I should say I have a concern.

My concern is the reputation that Christianity and Christians have  — from both non-believers and those who have left the church, but still believe in God. Folks, it’s not great.

I have been told or read the following statements:

“Christians are all just a bunch of hypocrites.”

“I believe in God, but not religion. The church just wants to judge everyone.”

“I don’t need Christianity, I can be a good person without it.”

“The church ruined my life.”

“Christianity is for people who need to believe in things that aren’t real.”

“All they care about is rituals and telling people they’re going to hell.”

“Where was God when my life was falling apart?”

I know, there are some big statements there. And I could list more. There’s a lot of hurt and emotion in those statements. There’s also some misinformation. And it makes me so sad…all of it. Because I want everyone — every single person — to know the love of God. To experience the joy and beauty of forgiveness and grace.

Because it changed my life.

There’s a lot of healing, softening of hearts, loving, and truth telling that needs to happen before those statements can be turned around. As a church, we need to come together and work on this with unity. We need to be patient, compassionate, and listen more than we talk. We also need to make sure when we do speak it’s Truth we are speaking. With a capital “T”.

God’s word has been misrepresented and misinterpreted for a long time. Sometimes by people using it to further their own agendas, but I think more often it’s good people who get stuck on snippets of scripture not read in full context, or popular phrases that sound scripturally-based, but really aren’t.

And it’s that last part I want to try and counter today. Those popular phrases or “Christian clichés” that are often said in love, and meant with good intentions, but actually cause more harm than good. At best they’re seen as “Christian-ese”, trite answers that don’t really offer comfort or provide insight into tough questions. At worst, they are promoting ideas that are just not Biblically-sound.

Let me be the first to confess that I, too, have been guilty of saying these. I heard a lot of them growing up from the adults around me and in church and many of them just sound good. I never thought to question the validity or think about how these might make others feel. But hard questions, deep hurt, and tough situations require more from us than short quips or trite clichés. They require us to sit down with the other person and listen to their hurt, empathize with what they’re going through, desire to really understand their questions, and then together look at God’s word. Dig deep and find the hope, truth, and love found only in His word.

So I’m tackling five commonly said phrases, or clichés, and countering with truth that I have found in scripture.

1. Cliché: God helps those who help themselves. Truth: God helps those who ask.

Psalm 120 says: “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.” And this is a common theme throughout Psalms and much of scripture. When we call out to God, he hears us! Does that mean we should sit in the dark despairing about our problems and not doing anything to get ourselves out of a desperate situation? No. But there is nothing in scripture that says God only helps those who first help themselves. He is a loving Father and he answers the cries of all of his children.

God helps those who ask

2. Cliché: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Truth: Repentance is next to godliness.

As a mom, I can get behind a statement that encourages good personal hygiene. However, this old saying is just so trite and I have never found any support for it in scripture.  So rather than pulling out this old, tired cliche, how about we speak some real truth into people’s lives? If you really want to get close to God then repenting for your sins is the surest way.  Luke 5:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The heavens literally rejoice whenever we repent of our sins! And just like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God welcomes us with open arms and celebrates each time we come to him asking for forgiveness.

Repentance is next to godliness

3. Cliché: God will not give you more than you can handle. Truth: God absolutely will give you more than you can handle, because he wants you to rely on him more than you rely on yourself.

I get where this statement comes from. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “…And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Verse 13 uses the word tempted or tested, depending on your translation, which is not the same as bearing the weight of problems. Especially when you read in context of verses 1-12. Paul is talking specifically about the temptation of sin — idolatry and sexual immorality are specifically mentioned.  This is not the same as grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with a cancer diagnosis. But that’s when I hear the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle” used the most…in those hard places of life. These are overwhelmingly hard burdens to bear. Things I can’t do on my own…things I need to rely on God for.

I think the danger in saying that he will not give us more than we can carry is implying that we alone have the strength to either fight our troubles or be crushed under them. 1st Corinthians 10:3 makes it very clear that God has to be the one to show us a way out and endure. This is repeated all throughout scripture, like in Psalm 37:39-40, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in times of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.”

God will absolutely give you more than you can handle, so you can lean on Him.

4. Cliché: God works in mysterious ways. Truth: God works for those who love him.

OK, yes, God’s ways are definitely higher than my ways, and that means I can’t possibly understand what he is doing, why, or how. But really, how helpful is this saying? I hear it used often when people just don’t have an answer to why something is happening in life, but I find no comfort in this saying. Instead, when we or someone we love is searching for answers, let’s give them real answers. Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Knowing that God always works for my good is not only an important scriptural truth, but it’s much more comforting than hearing that his ways are “mysterious”.

God works for those who love Him

5. Cliché: Love the sinner, hate the sin. Truth: Love everyone, hate my own sin.

This is another cliche that I believe is said with good intentions. People are trying to promote love and say that we are all worthy of love even when we sin. However, the specific contexts in which I typically hear it used often results in feelings of judgement and alienation. “I love you, BUT I hate what you do, or how you live your life.” Where’s the love in that?

Pastor and sociologist Dr. Tony Campolo puts it this way, “I’m always uptight when someone says, ‘You don’t understand. I love the sinner. I just hate his sin.’ And my response is: That’s interesting, because that’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says. Jesus never says, ‘Love the sinner but hate his sin. Jesus says, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin, and after you get rid of the sin in your own life, then you may begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life.‘”

In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus 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?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a 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.” Let’s take a cue from Jesus and love everyone, and focus on removing our own sin.

Love everyone, hate my own sin

If you would like to help me promote the idea of truth over clichés, feel free to share this article, or any of the images used throughout with the hashtag #truthnotcliches

 

photo credit: homethods Meditation Read via photopin (license)

 

 

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If you’re gonna shout, let love be the cry

There’s a popular Christian song called “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa and Toby Mac that has this line: “If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other. If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry.”

There’s a lot of shouting and fighting that takes place these days. Oh sure, it’s not usually actual shouting and arguing, person-to-person, although that definitely happens. Instead, it’s shouting in the form of firmly worded Facebook posts painting clear pictures of right and wrong. It’s arguing in heated Twitter exchanges complete with name calling and derogatory insults at individuals and entire groups of people. And the worst part about all of this shouting and fighting I see? It is often coming from fellow Christians.

I’m a firm believer in standing up for what you believe in. After-all what is the point in life if you can’t find something to really believe in? But where I see a problem is the use of verbal absolutes on internet-based platforms that do not lend themselves to real conversation and understanding. When sharing our values in 150 characters or less we draw a line in the sand that says, I’m on this side, if you disagree, you are on the other side.

Me versus you.

Us versus them.

And I’m pretty confident no one ever changed their mind by being called a “them”.

It’s the main reason I shy away from controversial topics on my blog because I know that I cannot enter into meaningful dialog with anyone via WordPress comments or Facebook posts. It’s very hard for me to listen and hear another person’s heart from this side of my computer screen. And if I’m gonna talk about the hard stuff, the ugly, messy stuff, then I want you to hear my heart, and I need to hear yours in return. It’s the only way we will ever take steps toward each other and maybe begin to erase that line.

Interestingly, I find that often the issues that people shout the loudest about are the ones they have never had to struggle with. It’s easy to identify sin that we ourselves have never been tempted by or struggled with. It suddenly gets a lot trickier when it’s something we are battling. I think that’s why so many Christians are able to take a hard stand on issues like abortion and gay rights. Yet, I rarely see Christians picketing outside a divorce attorney’s office or courtroom to let the world know that divorce is a sin. I’ve never seen bumper stickers on cars that say “You can’t be Christian and covet my Mercedes”. And no one I know has said to me, “I’m voting for the candidate that is pro-sabbath.”

Why? Because over 50% of Christians have been divorced, and more of us touched by it in our families. Because I think it’s safe to say ALL of us have desired things that another person has; and find me the person who doesn’t want Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday after church.

We’ve cursed, we’ve refused to forgive, we’ve disrespected our parents, we’ve gossiped, we’ve not observed the Sabbath, and a million other sins every day. It’s a lot easier to have compassion for others struggling with these sins because we have struggled with them.

We live in a day and age where most of us would be outraged if a church refused to allow a divorced person to worship within its doors, and an entire day of rest and spiritual study is a “nice to have”, when the kids don’t have a soccer game and I don’t have to go grocery shopping, that is.

And let me be very clear here, I’m not pointing fingers or judging ANYONE here. Quite frankly, I have enough of my own sin to worry about fixing, I don’t have time to be pointing out other’s.

My point is that we seem to have arrived in a place where there are certain topics it’s OK to take a stand on — publicly, loudly, boldly –with the foundation that as Christians we have a duty to point out sin and fight for Truth. But I think we need to ask ourselves whether we’d be just as willing to publicly, loudly, and boldly take a stand on some of the many other sins listed in the Bible — the ones we struggle with every single day.

Or maybe the better question to ask is, would we better serve God if the only thing we were quick to post on public forums was that we serve a loving God? What if the truth we were loudest about was that none of us are worthy, and yet we have been forgiven? What if the message we shared boldly was that of grace?

What might those statements do for the church? How might they draw people to Jesus instead of turning them away? Would it allow for real dialog and conversation?

I can’t say for certain., but I do know this: Jesus didn’t gain followers by standing on a street corner and shouting his beliefs. He sat next to the people who were different from him and asked questions. He ate with them and visited their homes. He looked them in the eye, saw their pain, and loved them. He invited them to walk with him.

And in the end, his final cry was that of love.

Friends, my plea is that before you decide to share that article that labels others, or condemns someone under the veil of “Christian family values” and sin, ask yourself what sin you are struggling with and whether you are willing to post about it to social media just as boldly. Or perhaps, instead, ask yourself if maybe social media isn’t the right place to be having these conversations at all. And then seek out someone who thinks differently from you, invite them to lunch, and open your heart so that you may hear theirs.

 

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12