Radical Christianity

I was in church the other day, and as I was singing the songs I realized that I wasn’t even paying attention to the words that I was singing. Then, I began to look around and wonder how many other people were in the same boat as me – just singing words without any emotion or conviction behind them. I would like to say that I snapped out of it with that realization and became so much more sincere, however if I’m being honest, I struggled to stay awake through the sermon yawning so much that it was embarrassing.

I remember a time in college, within the first few years of me becoming a Christian, when I wouldn’t sing the praise and worship songs in a worship service if I didn’t sincerely mean them. I was aware of the power the words in the songs held, and I refused to cheapen them with half-hearted effort and a lack of sincerity. After all, A.W. Tozer once said, “Christians don’t tell lies – they just go to church and sing them”. Sadly, as I became more and more involved in church and ministry, I began to worry about what people would think if they noticed that I wasn’t singing. Would they think I was upset? Would they think I didn’t want to be there? Would they think that I wasn’t a good Christian? Would they think badly of my minister husband because of me? Guys, listen to how screwed up this is: I was so worried that someone would think I wasn’t a good Christian that I became less sincere in my faith! What the heck?!

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Here’s the thing, though, I know that I am not the only one that has done this. I would contend that most of us are this way. We worry so much more about what other people think than what our Holy God thinks. It’s kind of understandable. After all, the disappointment or judgement on the faces of those around us is much more evident in the moment. We let the voices of those around us drown out God’s voice. People like things that “fit”, things that don’t rock the boat. But that’s the exact opposite of what Christ told us we would be as Christians. If we are following His example, we will be boat rockers who will not at all “fit” with society.

Paul tell us in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

We quote this verse a lot, but what I think we often miss about it, is that it is an “if-then” statement. IF we do not conform to the world and instead allow our mind to be renewed and transformed by Christ, THEN we will be able to understand God’s will. The world and our desire to be accepted by it drowns out God’s will. If we try to be a “good Christian” by anyone’s standards except for God’s, and God’s alone, we will completely miss the mark.

We were talking the other day in youth group (I swear, sometimes I learn as much as the youth) about how Peter was crucified upside down. This much I knew, but I always thought it was because he didn’t think he was worthy to be crucified in the same way as Christ. While that might be true, other scholars think that it was because he understood that Jesus had turned the world upside down, and so he wanted to be crucified upside down so he could finally see the world as Christ did. If we are truly going to call ourselves followers of Christ, we have to ask ourselves what we are actively doing to follow Him. More than likely, whatever that is, it won’t be the most popular action.

We who have been Christians for a while, look at new Christians that are “on fire” for Christ and either think “I remember when I was like that” or “well, they’ll calm down soon enough. They just have to get used to it” The grace and love that our Savior freely gives to us is not something we should ever “get used to”! We should all hope to live our entire Christian lives as “on fire” as the new Christian we are rolling our eyes at.

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We have to find a way back to the place of passion and conviction that we had when we first came to Christ. For some of you, maybe you’re thinking that you never really had that for whatever reason, maybe you became a Christian at such a young age that it was just always a part of you, but never really something radical in your life. I would suggest that you begin to pray that you come to a point where you can experience Christ in a fresh and new way. Y’all, Christ WAS radical. There is absolutely no arguing that. If we are not radical for Him, for the cause of Christ, I have to think that we are missing something…maybe everything (Rev. 3:16).

What if we began to base our life, not on what others thought of us, but on what Christ was leading us to do? What if our actions were spurred by Christ’s love – His love for us and His love for others? What if we were more influenced by God’s love for us than what others said to or about us? What if we lived our lives, not for the applause of others, but for a simple “Well done my good and faithful servant”?

What I Wish I Knew (Part 2): Advice I Would Give Young People

This is the follow up to a blog I began last week. I will include the introduction again for context, but if you want to read all of Part 1, click here.

For any of you who don’t know, my husband is a student pastor. This means that he is in charge of the youth and college/career student ministry at our church. Working with people in their twenties has caused me to look back at that time of life for me. While, I made very few mistakes and obviously don’t have any regrets (yeah, right), there is some general advice that I wish I could tell all people at that stage of life. Some of which is advice that I wish I was given. For example,

You don’t have to fit a mold or meet anyone’s expectations:

We have this tendency to let the American Dream, our parents’ expectations, our friends judgement, and a multitude of other things, cloud out God’s expectations and will. Worse than that, we don’t realize that’s what’s happening. We fool ourselves into thinking that the dreams, expectations, and pressures of others are God’s expectations because typically they are not bad things. In fact, they are really good things, so God probably wants them for us too. However, just because things are good, does not mean that they are God’s best for us. They could be, but I think we should at least stop and consider if they are.

Let me give you an example of this. A few years into our marriage, my husband and I bought a house. At which time, I immediately began to seek to fill the house with children through foster care…because that’s what you do. You get married, get a house, and have kids. I never stopped to seek God’s will for my life when it came to children. I just assumed that’s what He would want for me. After all, isn’t that what He wants for everyone? Through a series of events, which I won’t get into here, God interceded to show me that, at least, at that point in our life, that was not His will for us. And you know what, after I really stopped to consider it, I realized that having kids was not really a desire of my heart. I was just going through the motions of what I thought I should do. Now, before you write me off completely, I am not saying that you should not have kids. For most people, that is the right decision. However we can’t assume that it is God’s will for everyone, no matter what people expect of us.

“If we do a thing from a sense of duty, we are putting up a standard in competition with Jesus Christ”

As Christians, we don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations for our lives, except for God’s. We don’t have to fit any mold that we might feel pressured by society to succumb to. We have the freedom in Christ to be exactly who He created us to be, nothing more and nothing less. There will always be pressure on us to meet the expectations of others, but I feel that pressure is intensified in our twenties. It is especially important at that stage in your life, as you are shaping your identity, that God’s expectations are the only ones that matter for your life. It’s really a freeing realization. At times, it will mean letting others down. The decisions that go against the norm will not always be popular, and people will be disappointed, but as long as we are seeking God’s approval and following His will, we will never have to be disappointed in our decisions. Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest that, “If we do a thing from a sense of duty, we are putting up a standard in competition with Jesus Christ”. Nothing should compete with Jesus Christ, not even good things that aren’t His best for us. Erwin McManus in Unleashed adds, “We need to find the courage and freedom to be ourselves. We need to let ourselves become the unique individuals that God created us to be. We need to stop trying to be what everyone else wants us to be and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks.” This isn’t just some fluke that has only happened to me. This need to please others above pleasing our God is an epidemic among Christians in our country, but you don’t have to fall victim to it. Decide now that you will seek God and His will above all else, even if it means disappointing those closest to you or not meeting others’ expectations. 

Chase After God More than You Chase a Mate or the Ideal Life:

So many times in our twenties, and really throughout our life, we have this idea of how our life should be. We want to be married by this age or we will have this specific job (more than likely at this specific company or in this specific town). The problem is that most of the time, that idea is ours, not God’s. It could have started out as loosely based on something that God lead us to, but, man, we just run with it, don’t we? So much so, that by the time we’re finished with that dream, it barely resembles anything God said. So, then we spend most of our time chasing that idea, whether it be a job, a significant other, a certain social status, or some goal we have set for ourselves.

That idea, whatever it may be, becomes our focus, and we ask God to bless it. This is easy to do at any point in our life, but especially when we are at the stage of life when all of these things (a mate, a career, etc) tend to be the next step. It’s so easy to focus on those things and fool ourselves into thinking that we are still focused on God. We focus on who God is going to send us, what God wants us to do, or who He wants us to be, but we forget to get to know Him. We forget to pursue God above pursuing a mate, above pursuing a career. At all times of your life you have to be intentional about chasing God above all the things you are hoping He will give you and guide you to. And I promise you, He will provide. It might not be in the way we thought, but it will be in the exact way we need, at the exact time we need. Yes, we can pray for that thing that we so desperately want, but we have to remember to desire God more. Honestly, if we don’t desire Him more, then we’re really not ready for whatever it is that we are chasing.

Live Your Life:

Other people’s lives look awesome most of the time, don’t they? After all, most people don’t post the worst of them on social media. We tend to share just enough on those platforms to look human and relatable, without actually getting down to the messy parts of life. Which is exactly why it is so easy to put other people on a pedestal. The problem is that our lives will never be like theirs, because their life is not like that. So we’ve set this unachievable goal for our lives because of what we’ve seen from someone else, inevitably leaving us disappointed. It might not even be someone’s entire life, but it’s little tidbits. We want that person’s career, this other person’s joyful demeanor, his determination, her looks, etc. However, what we have to be aware of is that God didn’t intend us to lead their life. So, yes, we can learn from others, glean their wisdom, but don’t idolize them. Remember, they have their own struggles and a past that has brought them to the point they’re at, and you will have your own struggles that will bring you to the place God wants you. Let each person’s journey be their own, including yours. 

Let each person's journey be their own,

 

What I Wish I Knew (Part 1): Advice I Would Give Young People

For any of you who don’t know, my husband is a student pastor. This means that he is in charge of the youth and college/career student ministry at our church. Working with people in their twenties has caused me to look back at that time of life for me. While, I made very few mistakes and obviously don’t have any regrets (yeah, right), there is some general advice that I wish I could tell all people at that stage of life. Some of which is advice that I wish I was given. For example,

Don’t assume your right now is forever:

When we’re young, and we receive our first “real” job or calling from God, we are so excited. We feel like we are finally fulfilling our purpose. So, when we lose that job or the honeymoon period ends, it can feel like we have failed in our calling. It can truly create a crisis of identity for us. “God called me to be this, so if I’m not that, then what am I? What purpose do I serve?”

This has happened to me multiple times. It started in college when I went on a mission trip to Kenya. When I was eighteen I had received a calling to do missions, and I thought that calling meant that I was to live in an African country for the rest of my life, so when I was twenty I went on a trip to Kenya for the entire summer. Y’all, I have never been so miserable in my entire life! I got sick the first week, and didn’t get completely better until about five months later. It was quite clear to me that I was not going to be a missionary in Africa. Huge crisis! What was I going to do?

Then I graduated college and got my first teaching job, I loved it! I was fulfilling my calling – to love, encourage and believe in those students that others had given up on. Then, I moved and started a new season of life, and I just know in my heart that, at least for right now, teaching is not what I need to be doing. Honestly, I’m not really sure what that is right now…I think it might be sign language interpreting…maybe, but I’m not totally for sure. And you know what? That’s okay. Does this mean that I have lost my calling? No, and what I’ve realized is that I never lost my calling. My calling has remained the same – to love God and love others, giving Him glory in all I do. The avenues through which I fulfill that calling will change, but as long as I am loving Him and loving others, I’m doing just fine.

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So, maybe you love what you are doing right now and you are sure that it will be what you are doing forever. Good for you, treasure this time, enjoy every moment of it, maybe it will be your forever. However, there’s no guarantee it will be. What is a guarantee is your relationship with Christ, so base your life on that. Yes, what you are doing might be fantastic, but it is not your forever, God is. Base your decisions, your life, who you are, on God, not on what you do or the way that you are fulfilling your life calling at this moment. And you know what, if you don’t like where you’re at right now, the same thing still holds true. You are not whatever it is that you are doing, whatever your job is, so don’t base your identity, life, or self-worth on it. You are who Christ says you are, who He has made you through His redemptive blood, love and grace. So take hope and know that this is not your forever either, God is.

This also means that if something comes your way, and you think it might be from God, but it really doesn’t seem to fit into what you are currently doing or what you feel “called” to right now, be open to it. It may be a fleeting thing that doesn’t change much, but it could also be a new way that God is leading you to fulfill your calling. Be open to how the Holy Spirit might be moving in your life, even if it doesn’t fit with your “right now”.

Hold Onto Who You Are, Especially When Things Are Against You: 

I hope that your life will always be sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. However, the reality is that, more than likely on occasion, it will suck…epically. I’m not talking about the “I have a hangnail and I stubbed my toe and I made a bad grade on a test” type of sucking. I am talking about the gut-wrenching, “will life ever get better?”, “I feel completely abandoned by God and everyone and don’t know how to continue” type of suckage.

First off, I am so sorry for those times. During those times, there’s nothing anyone can say as a solve all. I really wish there was. I wish I could get some kind of “magical” inspiration from God and write some words here that would make everything better during those times, but that’s just not the case. His love and mercy and grace gets us through those times, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a long, grueling process. During those times, though, it is easy to forget all the good things. It’s easy to forget the times that God has spoken to us, the things that He has told us, and the ways that He has shown us His love. The enemy gets a foothold in our despair and causes us to question all those things. “Well, I must have misunderstood what God wants for me”. “I thought that was true, but it obviously isn’t or this wouldn’t be happening”. “I was told that God would never abandon me, yet here I am”. And this is the time that we have to cling for dear life to God’s promises to us. Yes, I am talking about the scriptural promises. After all, we have the example from Jesus of clinging to scripture during the temptation and the worst times. However, I am also talking about those promises that we have heard Him whisper to us. The things that we know deep in our soul are from Him. It’s easy during the rough times to lose ourselves in the despair, but we have to hold on to who we are in Christ, who we know He has made us into. That desperate clinging to Christ and all the things He has told us, that is what will get us through those times, not some “magical” phrase.

**There will be a Part 2 to this article published next week**

A Glimpse into the Kingdom

**Note: When I speak of the Church with a capital “C”, I am referring to the organization as a whole, not any one, individual body of believers. **

Recently, I have been privileged enough to get a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven. Really, I have had short glimpses of this since January. You see, in January I began substituting at the most amazing school! It’s completely unique and wonderful. It’s a mixture of special needs and general education kids and deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing kids. The kids all take classes together. In other words, there aren’t special education classes and general education classes. So, when I first began working at this school I thought it was a cool concept, but I don’t think I fully comprehended what was happening at this school until the last 2 days.

The last day we had our Honors Assembly. I’m only a sub, but before we went to the gymnasium, I still gave my typical speech before these assemblies about being respectful to their classmates, supporting them, not teasing them, only positive comments, etc. However, I had forgotten where I worked. This is no typical school. During this assembly students of all abilities (severe special needs to advanced/gifted) were recognized for their accomplishments. They weren’t only recognized by the staff, their peers genuinely cheered for them. Some of the students bounded up on stage to receive their awards, others took some time to get up on stage due to their physical limitations, but it didn’t matter, they were cheered for the same. Some of the students were given the opportunity to speak from the stage and some of them had prepared speeches that were clear and concise, while others spoke unintelligibly, but still from their heart, and still they were all cheered for the same.

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In addition to being amazing for all the reasons I’m talking about, my school also loves Star Wars, which makes them even better!

There aren’t words to accurately describe this experience. I wanted to take pictures, but due to confidentiality issues I couldn’t. This school embraces diversity. It celebrates individuality. It encourages kids to be exactly who they are, rather than fitting into some mold. At the same time as it is doing all this, it also encourages them to work together and live as a community. These attributes – acceptance, individuality, diversity, creativity, community, love – are why I say that working there is a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven. You see, this is exactly what I think the Kingdom of Heaven is like. God made us as individuals, but created us for community with him and each other.

Being at this school and seeing these beliefs lived out has caused me to reflect on how the Church represents these same values. I have to say this school looks much different than most churches. When most people think of churches they think of having to dress a certain way and act in a specific manner (mostly putting on a cheerful face). That is not the way this school operates. People dress however they are comfortable. Some have gauged ears, tattoos, and multi-colored hair, some wear ties or dresses while others wear sweatpants and t-shirts. And because they are a community of people living life together, occasionally people have really bad days, but they love each other through it. They show grace and love, and they move on. People are able to express themselves the way God created them.

Do not get me wrong. I am in no way advocating the “everything is permissible” and “we all make our own truths” mentality that is so common today. However, I am saying that as the Church we have to be intentional about the culture and reputation we are creating. We have to be open to things that are different and willing to accept things that are outside of our comfort zone. There are ways to honor God and glorify His name that do not match what we’ve always done. And our community, the Church, becomes so much more beautiful when we allow people to express themselves in exactly the way God created them to do so. There is a beauty and splendor in allowing people to be who they are. That doesn’t mean that we don’t still disciple and study the Word together in an effort to grow closer to our Savior. Of course, we do that! And, yes, that will inevitably change us. But what I’m talking about is our individual personalities, our quirks, the things that make us who we are. So many times, the Church tries to dampen those qualities in us because they don’t “fit” our idea of what a Christian should look like. If someone likes to dance, let them dance to the glory of God; if someone likes tattoos, let them honor God with what they put on their body; if someone enjoys rock music, let them praise God to Skillet and Red; if someone enjoys all things nerd (sci-fi, anime, comic books, D&D, superheroes, etc.), let them relate to those people who have similar interests and share God’s love in that setting.

When we celebrate our quirks and our individuality, the Kingdom of God is expanded and taken into parts of society it may not typically be welcome. We are not called to create cookie-cutter Christians, we are called to love people. It’s hard to look at God’s creation and argue that He does not love diversity, so why would he not want that among His people? I think He rejoices in diversity. I would even go as far as to say that when we do not allow diversity and individuality in the Church, we dampen the Holy Spirit. Yes, God will still bless us, because He is good and gracious and He loves us. However, what blessings are we missing out on when we imply that His creations are only welcome when they worship like we do, act like us, look like us, and so forth.

Adam and I got a tattoo of 1 Corinthians 15:10 for our 30th birthdays. It says, “By the grace of God I am what I am and His grace towards me was not in vain”. If we are going to accept God’s grace towards us to be who we were created to be, we have to accept other people in that same love and grace. Often times that will mean that they look and act different than us, but that is the beauty of God’s Kingdom.