I’m not like ‘those’ Christians

A colleague came back from teaching a senior Religion class and commented that one of the students had been particularly outspoken about her faith. In what, I imagine, was an attempt to separate herself from the Christian stereotype generally despised by other students, she began to draw out the distinctions of her particular denomination, speaking scathingly of the others and saying that she wasn’t like ‘those Christians.’

Suffice to say, it didn’t have the desired effect, and I imagine she did nothing to promote the merits of Christianity at all.

Unfortunately, though, I can relate to her efforts. I still recall sitting in a lecture theatre at uni, waiting for a class to start, as a fellow student slated Christians. I mentioned that I was a Christian and she responded, ‘yeah but you’re not one of those in-your-face born-again types.’

The fact is, that Christians come in all different shapes, sizes, and levels of sanctification. While it is important that we separate ourselves from cults that promote a false Gospel, I can’t help thinking that our general Christian-slamming and denomination promoting is doing far more to destroy the Church than build it.

The fact is, we’re all a bunch of messed up sinners. We have different preferences and a bent towards selfishness. We are all redeemed only by the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and it was He who said that the world would know us by our love for one another. Maybe we should focus on that.

 

 

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Celebrating Weakness as a Key to my Identity

 

Wow, this is making me feel inadequate!
I’m still shocked that these words came out of my mouth, but they did, before I even had time to think.
I was talking to a friend about owning property. Like me, they’d been very circumstantially blessed in this area and, despite the humble way that they spoke about it, it was clear that they were sitting on some very valuable investments. My instant feeling, when faced with someone in a ‘better position’ to me was inadequacy.
This was further highlighted to me this week as I realized how often I do a self-appraisal of how ‘successful’ I am at life. Ironically much of this centers around how I think my life looks to other people.
Here’s some embarrassing examples of what goes through my head:

Ok, so I’m single. I’m basically failing at the most significant thing in life, so I need to make up for it somehow. I need to prove that my life is still awesome enough to justify being alone.

How am I going at life? Actually I’m doing okay. I have property. Lots of people my age don’t, and I’m going to nail this whole mortgage thing.
I have a career that I enjoy and I’m in leadership now and…
I’ve traveled…
I have lots of friends…
I give to missions and charity…
I have…
                        I can…
                                                I do…
                                                                        I am…

Successful.

I have a decent personal resume. Most of the time it’s enough to make me feel okay about being alone. Most of the time I feel that my strengths are outweighing my weaknesses.
But.
Sometimes they don’t help at all. They offer no answer when the ugly question rears it’s head ‘Why, despite all this, does nobody want me?’

Most of the time I also know that the successes I’m counting aren’t actually the things that matter; that they’re all superficial things that can be lost in an instant.

It really hit home the other day as I was crying out to God to speak into my life and He took me to James 1:10-11.
“[Let the rich boast] in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away… So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
What does it mean, I asked, to boast in my humiliation? I was reminded of the way in which the Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses and counted everything he had gained in this world as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, and I knew… it is in my weaknesses, not my successes, that my true greatness lies, because my true greatness does not come from me.

I thought of my ‘humiliations’ in life and discovered that in each of them lay a truth about my identity that was far more significant than any house, or job or travel. Here are some:

I am single – I am pursued and loved by God
I am dust – I am a new, eternal creation
I am weak – I have the strength of the Almighty
I am sometimes socially awkward – I am safe in God’s sovereign plan
I am alone – I am hid with Christ in God and am never alone.
I am sinful – I am forgiven and made righteous
I am overlooked – I am found and known and cherished.

So there are my greatest weaknesses; the yucky parts of who I am; the ones I try to cover up with the more glamorous looking list. But there also, in Christ, are my greatest strengths. As I reflect on who I am, and how I’m going in life, may I always remember that my boast is in these things, not the other list to which I cling so tightly. Because the other list? It is as fleeting as a spring flower.

Don’t take your convictions for granted

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How do we fall so far?

I was sitting in my Pastor Carl’s office a few months back talking about some things I was struggling with. In the midst of it all, I told him that I’d be willing to give anything up for Jesus. Wisely, he heard my words as more habitual than real, the remnant shadow of past genuine conviction.

“You need to cultivate that, Sarah,” he said. “Don’t take it for granted. Convictions must be nurtured, or they become empty words.”

It reminded me of another conversation, with another pastor, Andy, several years before. I was grieving the fact that several Christian leaders, who I’d long looked up to, who had trained me and nurtured me and developed me in my faith, had drifted away from their convictions. Instead of the passionate faith-filled people they once were, they are living their lives like cold coals, far from the fire in which they had once burnt so brightly.

“How does this happen?” I lamented.

“They lost sight” Andy said, “They stopped watching the Lamb.” (This is a reference to a song- the lyrics are here).

I do not believe that true salvation can ever be lost, but it is a certain tragedy that our love can grow cold, in the very midst of noble sounding platitudes.

I must not assume that a fire that once burned bright will continue that way without careful tending. Today, afresh, I must commit to holding only to Jesus, with a willingness to let all else go.

We all want the power

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There’s this great verse in Philippians 3 where Paul says “ I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…” If you’re like me, your heart has a similar craving to Paul’s. Oh to truly know Christ in such a deep way that we daily experience the amazing power that flows through Him. A power that not only changes lives but that conquers death.

The idea of this kind of power is intoxicating, and, dare I say, very human.

See, Philippians 3:10 is a verse that, perhaps more than any other in Scripture, I like to leave incomplete. I like to pretend that that’s what it really says. Yes! I want to know Christ. Yes! I want to know the power of his resurrection. Stop.

But the verse doesn’t stop, and it is dangerous for us to pretend that it does. It continues: “…and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

Wow. We all want the power, but let’s be honest, we don’t want it God’s way. God’s way says “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor 12:9). It is in sharing in the sufferings, yes, even in the death of Jesus that we can truly know the power that has been bought through His resurrection.

We must not despise the suffering that God allows in our lives, nor suppose that we can truly know Him or experience His power apart from it.

Should Christians really ‘focus on the family?’

I don’t know the answer to this one, but I do have some questions, and I’m interested to know what people think.

If you’re like me, and you’ve grown up in the western church, you’ve probably noticed a huge focus on the preservation and upholding of the traditional, often nuclear, family model. We consistently have reinforced that Family is important; Family must come first. We even have a conservative political party named for this very idea.dollhouse-family-portraits_2749316

But I’m starting to question it. Maybe it’s because I’m 28 and single. Maybe it’s because I realize that the only reason I’m not alone at Christmas is because I live in the same city as my parents and siblings. Maybe it’s because my heart hurts on mothers day and fathers day and at Christmas when everyone goes off to celebrate with their neat little nuclear families and I see others left to feel the gap; to feel like they don’t really fit in a world made for poster-perfect families.

Don’t get me wrong, family is important. Marriage is sacred and children are a blessing, but somehow I feel like the Bible offers us something better than the nuclear family. I feel like maybe the New Testament wanted to change our focus to the Church family; to turn from the nuclear to the community; to cultivate ‘all together’ rather than ‘us separately.’

If ‘focusing on the family’ means that some just can’t fit in, aren’t we getting something wrong?

As if you yourselves were suffering

1623617_10152579606750590_2673355775065316097_nThe world has been looking on in horror at the atrocities being committed against Christians in Iraq.

The blatant arrogance of IS has shocked us as they’ve flaunted their brutality through the media.

As Christians we can feel helpless. We want to show our support, but beyond changing our profile pictures to the ‘N’ symbol, or donating money to humanitarian aid, there’s little we can do. Except pray. We can pray.

Times like this remind me of Hebrews 13:3, a verse that never fails to challenge me.

“Continue to remember those in prison [for the sake of Jesus] as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

We should be praying for them, as if it were us suffering along with them. As if we were there. Suddenly my sense of urgency increases.

It can be hard to know what to pray, but a friend of mine the other day prayed something that really struck me. We can (and should) pray for these horrors to stop; for the Christians’ safety and protection, but we can also pray for something else:

That they would stand strong to the end, and that they would die with honour, in a way befitting their Lord. That they would glorify their Redeemer in their last breath, confident that they will pass straight into His presence.

Should we teach our kids to ‘grow’ the fruits of the Spirit?

out-in-the-fall-3_21264535This is a question that I’ve given some thought to, but am yet to come up with an answer for.

As Christian parents (I’m not one, but they do say it takes a village to raise a child) it is our responsibility to raise our children with moral values and a fear of the Lord. Few would dispute that, but how far do we take it?

As a child, I learnt all about the fruits of the Spirit. There were diagrams and songs and colouring in sheets; juicy apples and pears and bananas all with a word attached: love, joy, peace…

These were all character traits that we knew we were to cultivate, but as an adult I can’t help wondering… have we missed the point?

Are fruits of the Spirit things that can be taught, or are they traits that grow in us purely as a result of the Spirit?

If we teach our children to exhibit these things, are we wisely training them in the way they should go, or are we creating little people who know how to look good on the outside, but whose hearts have not been changed?

Is it our moral responsibility to reward them for ‘Spirit filled’ behaviour and discipline them for ‘fleshly behaviour,’ or should we be focusing on teaching them the Gospel and letting the Spirit grow this fruit?

I’m really not sure. What are your thoughts?

What if you got to Heaven… and God wasn’t there?

Golden-CrownHave you ever asked yourself whether you’d still want to go to heaven if God weren’t there?

I’m really not into rap, but I just can’t go past this song by Shai Linne:

“Would you be satisfied, to go to heaven, have everybody there in your family that you want there, have all the health and restoration of your prime and everything you disliked about yourself fixed, have every recreation you’ve ever dreamed available to you, and have infinite resources and money to spend, would you be satisfied…

… If God weren’t there?”

This question hits me pretty deep, because to be honest, there’s a big part of me that thinks I would be satisfied; there’s a big part of me that looks forward to and longs for heaven because of all of those things.

But that’s not what I want for my life, nor for my eternity.

May it be my ever increasing desire to say along with Linne and King David that:

“I don’t wanna go to heaven if God is not there.

Whom have I in Heaven but You (nobody), And earth has nothing I desire but You. My flesh and my heart may fail, however – the Lord is my portion forever… forever… “

I’m having to remind myself this week that my hope and my treasure is not in a place or in things, but in a person. Heaven is not heaven without God. May He be the sole desire of my heart.

Money: When the Empty Cup Runneth Over

I know it’s not considered polite to talk about money. But I’m not entirely a stranger to the art of openly talking about social taboos, so today’s blog is about money.

I was talking last night to a friend about that amazing paradox that she and I and many others have experienced: that the more you give to God, the more you seem to have.

SAMSUNG TECHWIN DIGIMAX-340I’m not talking in some form of spiritual metaphorical jargon. I have actually personally experienced that sense of confusion on realizing that the numbers just don’t seem to add up. That there must be more money going out than coming in, and yet, somehow, my cup runneth over.

One of the best lessons that my parents taught me from a young age was to give first to the Lord. Not first when I think of it, or when I can afford it, or when I ‘feel led,’ but first every time. First when I can’t afford it. First when it means sacrifice.

I do not give in order to receive. I give as a reflection that God comes first in my life. And yet the amazing paradox is that somehow, the more I give, the more I seem to have. And I know it’s not just me.