Discombobulated Thoughts

I’d like to think that I make a difference. I’d like to believe I’m so much more than what I am. I’d like to know in my heart all the truths that people tell me.

But somehow, those words don’t come out of my mouth. For some reason, none of it is real to me.

It’s a long, hard fight towards believing in love, believing in grace.

I’d like to think I’ve got all the answers, so I can just pull them from my pocket when need be. I’d like to think I’m changing lives, carrying my sisters and brothers in Christ. I’d like to believe that God is using me to do amazing things.

But I’m stuck in a cloud of discombobulated thoughts.

The truth is there in my head, drilled into my brain by the repetitious years. There are moments when I feel like a hypocrite, spouting off words of truth that are supposed to reach the hearts of others even though they haven’t reached mine.

See, the truth is the truth, regardless of who delivers it and how. I know the truth, and therefore I have an obligation to fulfill in sharing the truth with others.

I watch people live out the truth, like they’ve got it all together. And I sigh. Surely, I think, I must be missing something.

But no. I am living out the truth.

My life might not be all together, and I may struggle on a daily hourly basis.

But if I live my life knowing that I am loved by God, I am still living out the truth. If I tell my sister in Christ that she is beautiful in God’s eyes, I am living out the truth. If I tell my brother in Christ that he is priceless to God, I am living out the truth.

No, I’m never going to be the poster girl for Christianity. (Go figure.) But I can still live out the truth, even if I struggle.

Prayer, Petition, and Thanksgiving

So, I promised y’all another post from Philippians. (Doesn’t “y’all” just sound *so* professional…) I went over Phil. 4:4 last time, so tonight I’d like to hone in on v. 6-7.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Now, I don’t know about you, but being anxious about everything is kind of my special gift lately. A few weeks ago, I was uber-stressed about a certain event taking place in my life, and I kept returning to this verse. Do not be anxious… And not just, “Do not be anxious”, but “Do not be anxious about anything.”

If you’re anything like me, you would have joined me in a good laugh. This is life we’re talking about here, Paul, and I’m sure the church in Philippi was getting a kick out of it, too. You can’t just say “Don’t be anxious about anything”. If you have anxiety, that’s just… that’s an impossible goal.

But Paul didn’t just say “do not be anxious about anything.” He knew what it was to be anxious, so he included a solution. He follows up with, “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God.”

In every situation. EVERY situation. In every situation you face in life, here’s what you do – present your requests before God by prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.

(And if you’re even more like me, you looked up “petition”, just to make sure your definition was still accurate, and they hadn’t changed the dictionary or anything…)

I put that on sticky notes and put them in my school books to remind me – prayer, petition, thanksgiving.

Now, on just a first glance, that doesn’t look so bad. We like this whole “prayer and petition” thing, but… what is “thanksgiving” doing at the end there?

I admit, I was just fine with the first two. Pouring out my requests before the Lord was easy, but I faltered when I got to thanksgiving. What am I giving thanks for, here? I don’t think anxiety and thanksgiving are synonyms…

But it links back to verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

And so I thanked God for the anxiety, for the troubles, for the trials. Because here’s the good news worth being thankful for- God has a purpose to accomplish through each trial. He didn’t just suddenly get bored and think, “Hmm, I’ll send Lauren a whopper of a stress-inducer today!” He has something He wants to teach me, something He wants to accomplish in me, and the only way He can do that is through a trial.

Here’s another cool part, though. Notice how Paul concludes here: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

WOW! So present your requests before God in this way, and He promises a peace that will guard my heart and mind, a peace that passes my understanding? Just, wow. What a promise!

And I felt it, too. I remember being with my mom in that stressful situation, and telling her that I felt peace, “but I don’t know why. But it’s there.”

It’s unexplainable. It transcends all understanding. And it’s a promise from God.

How amazing is our God!

Dearest Child of God,

I can see you hurting. You’re trying to shut the world out, trying to keep them from knowing the truth. You smile at them, telling them the truth that you yourself need to hear. You pull your act together to pretend that life is good, and the mask you wear hides the tears in your eyes. I know what you’re doing, because I’ve been there.

The world tells you that the darkness you feel is all in your head – it’s the way you perceive these trials. They tell you to get over it, to move on. But you can’t. It’s too deep, too real.

But you don’t let them know that. You keep living life in a lie, telling everyone that you’re fine, when you’re silently crying out for help. You live life as a masquerade, never letting anyone see who you really are.

I know what it’s like, because I’ve been there. And I know how badly it hurts. I know the pain of shutting everyone out, pretending that it’s all going to be okay. I know. And because I’ve been there, I know the things that you need to take to heart.

You can’t give up. You have to keep pressing on, keep fighting this.

Why? It hurts to fight! It’s hard to keep moving forward when your heart just wants to stop! Why would I tell you to not give up?

Because you are worth it. Dear, you are so worth it.

I know you don’t see yourself through the eyes of those around you. You don’t see the beauty that we see; you don’t see the warrior that anyone who bothers to look close enough can see in you. Your eyes are veiled by all the lies you’ve told yourself for so long. You look at your reflection and tell yourself all the things that the enemy wants you to believe.

But I can tell you that those things you tell yourself are not true. Because there is Someone far greater than the lies you believe, than the distorted way you see yourself.

He is the one who loves you. His love for you is like none you will ever, ever know here on this earth. It is so much deeper, so much greater, and it lasts forever. No matter how many lies you believe, no matter what you say or do, no matter how you may perceive or believe Him, He loves you so deeply.

He knows you are beautiful. It doesn’t matter to Him what the world says you have to look like – He finds you beautiful just as you are. Think about that for a moment: just as you are. Without trying to change you, without you being any different, without you having to behave a certain way or keep up a certain act. He wouldn’t want you to be any different than exactly how He’s made you.

On those nights when you’re crying alone, He’s holding you. In the moments when you want to just die, He’s not about to let you go. When you’ve failed yet again, He’s not holding it against you. He loves you for exactly who you are: the beautiful person that He’s made you to be.

Cling to that promise. Don’t give up – your Savior is at your side to dry your tears, tell you that you’re beautiful, and to lavish His love upon His dear child. Please, keep pressing on. Fight this fight. I know it’s hard. Believe me. But please don’t let go of the One who is holding you the tightest. You are worth it. Don’t give up.

What Happened to Our Church?

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon here at my house, so I’ve sat down here with a mug of tea to write out some of the thoughts I’ve been having today. (Edit: I still haven’t completely learned to like tea. But I’m still trying to.) Before I get started, I just want to clarify that I don’t mean to condemn some of the ideas people have, or the lifestyles they live. These are just some observations that I’ve made recently, and I’m writing it out here. If you see anything you disagree with, or have any insight for me, PLEASE tell me in the comments! I would absolutely love to know someone else’s perspective on the topic of the church.

I don’t know about you, but I have been to SEVERAL churches in my lifetime, of both ends of our belief spectrum. I’ve been from the mega-church to the home church, from the uber-conservative-and-legalistic fundamental church to the rock ‘n’ roll party church. Throughout this whole experience, there has been something lacking at so many of these churches which I’ve been considering a lot today. Now, I know I haven’t been to every single church in the world. I can only make generalizations, albeit by a small sample. But I don’t believe that I have yet attended a church that practices some of the key things I see mentioned in Scripture.

What I’m going to talk about is what I see lacking in churches. I know that a lot of churches seem to have it all under control – they’ve got the awesome worship band, the large attendance, the overflowing offering plate, and the dynamic speakers. Right? Sure. But there is so much more depth lacking in today’s average church, I believe, and I wanted to just cover briefly some of my observations. (Edit: it’s not brief. But hey!)

I was looking through my Bible this afternoon, writing down some of the things that Paul wrote when he addressed the believers at the different churches. Here are a few that I wrote down:

  • Encourage the believers through faith
  • The body of Christ – function in unity; help one another
  • Truly love each other; act in love
  • To not judge another; be accepting of each other just as Christ accepted you

 

I realize that there is much, much more to a church, but these are a few things that stood out to me in my one afternoon of research. I know that no church is going to be perfect – the church is made up of humans, and we fail repeatedly, ever falling short. There is never going to be the perfect church. Yet these are still things that I think should be prevalent in a church, and have yet to see freely practiced.

To consider the first point, I’m inclined to believe that this is a very broad term for what Paul is asking here. It sounds rather vague, but I want to think about it a little bit in-depth for a moment. How do I encourage someone through my own faith?

I think of the whole reason I started this blog. My goal was not to preach at people, to bash certain groups of people, or just write for the fun of it. My ambition, my prayer, and my aspiration has been that through this blog, people will read of my failures, my beliefs, the whole story of my faith, and be encouraged or enlightened by it. By my faith – including my opinions, my understanding, and my beliefs on controversial topics – others may be encouraged during their own failures, through their own beliefs, and grow in their own faith. Not that I would ever try to be the model Christian, because I’m afraid that if I tried, I would fail miserably. As would you. All that I can do is set an example, whether it’s a good one or a bad one.

I used my blog as an example of encouraging a believer through faith, but there are so many other ways to do that. Be it by conversation, prayer, lifestyle – I hope you can see my point. But I consider this specific command to be an intentional encouragement, not simply something that we pray will just happen. I view it as actively trying to encourage others through our faith in whatever form it takes.

I don’t recall having seen this through my church-attending experiences. Maybe I’ve just missed it, or haven’t been there long enough to see it in action. But from the churches that I have been to for a decent period of time, I don’t remember people trying to encourage me through their faith. Now, I admit that I did gain a connection through the last church I was at for a long time who has encouraged me greatly through their faith. I have indirectly known people through a church that I have viewed as good examples because of their faith. But in comparison with every single other church in the pile that I’ve attended over the years, that should have been more prevalent, in my opinion. I would love to see a church body that deliberately encourages many through their faith.

As to my second point, I admit I haven’t seen much unity in the church, either. I have seen many people acting for themselves, but I have not seen the body of Christ functioning as a whole. I have seen gossiping and selfish intent, but I have not seen people acting in unity, for the benefit of one another.

I can only assume that this is attributed to selfishness. See, this part hurts me. When I picture the body of Christ, made up of all of His children, I see everyone in the church as one of my adopted family members. Is it not biblical? I believe unity is one of the key things to a thriving family, and when it’s not exhibited in the church, it takes away the aspect of the family of believers. The people of the church are supposed to be the ones who are there for each other, who act as the body of Christ – how is His body supposed to be divided against each other? It can’t be!

Again, I can’t definitely that this is the way it is with all churches. But I have heard it be a common complaint about the church, and I’ve seen some of it myself. When we become the center of our attention, then we lose sight of those around us. And it hurts those around us when we focus completely on ourselves. The body of Christ needs every member to function for the benefit of others, rather than ourselves, to function in unity.

My third point – truly loving one another. When I say true love, I’m talking about something that we hardly ever see happen even outside of the church. I mean a selfless, sacrificial love. What’s so outstanding about this isn’t just that we rarely see this in action, but that it’s hard. It’s so hard to love people sometimes, especially as Christ loves us. And yet, we are called to do it.

Consider for a moment the people in the church that you believe truly love you, with that selfless and sacrificial love. Now exclude the ones that you consider to be friends. Who are you left with?

I’m talking about loving others outside of a friendship. We tend to associate this kind of true love being inside of a close relationship, but it doesn’t even have to be. To truly love someone doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with them first. It doesn’t mean you have to be friends at all. To truly love is to love as Christ loves each of His children.

And I fail to see this happen, probably more than my other points. We all want to be loved, but when it comes for us to pay the cost of truly loving others, we pass it up. We are desiring of a true love, but we are unwilling to exhibit it to our fellow believers in Christ. This is something that I very much wish was more prevalent in the church as a whole.

And lastly, that little bit that always seems to get thrown back in our faces at some point – judging others. For this post, I’m not talking about just judging people in general; I’m talking about judging fellow believers. Can you believe that this is actually very well-known in the church? *Gasp* I know, it’s shocking, but it’s true. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and many of the people that we know have done it too. It’s something that comes natural to us, like a built-in self-defense mechanism. We’re so quick to judge someone if it’s something that’s not in our favor, or offends us in any way. It’s like a second nature to us, naturally. But it’s something that Christ instructs us not to do!

What Christ does instruct us to do is to accept others the way that He has accepted us. That’s something that doesn’t come like a second nature. Our judgmental minds fight the idea of acceptance. It’s easy to accept someone that doesn’t offend, has the same values, and has similar ideas about things that you do. But when someone comes along who differs in many aspects from you, has a few outlandish ideas that need some refuting, and says something you don’t like, you’ll be the first person to jump on them and start judging them for what they’re doing.

Here’s the thing, though. Judging has its positives and its negatives. For example, if I were to see you helping some kid who had just gotten hurt, I might assume that you’re a caring person, just based off of that event. That would be a positive judgment. The kind of judging we’re talking about here is the kind of judging that most people think of, the negative kind. As children of God, we don’t want to beat down our fellow believers with judgment and negativity. This is the kind of judgment that we don’t want to have, that we want to replace with acceptance.

Acceptance is a hard thing, however. Believe me, I know. It’s hard to accept someone for who they are sometimes, especially if it’s not in your favor. Which is why it’s so common to see a lack of acceptance among the believers in the church.

Your mask may get accepted – the show you put on when you’re at church on Sundays might be accepted without any judgment. But it’s different when people find out who you really are, and therein lies the true heart of the people who make up the church.

Now, after all of this, I haven’t been trying to bash the church. Not at all. These are simply a few things that I have noted that our churches seem to be void of.

The Potter

I know I promised another post on the passage in Philippians, and I’m working on it, but here’s a short little post I’ve been mulling over lately.

I have an evil twin – no joke. She always reminds me how different I am from others, of how I’ll never match up, of how ugly I am, etc. (Thus what makes her evil.) I see her everyday when I get ready in the mornings, looking at me in my mirror, as she glares at me skeptically and critically. I try to tune her out, but she has a loud, overpowering voice.

Needless to say, I listen to her. A lot. She tells me that my value and worth comes from a certain clothing size, a certain look, a certain way of living – and I buy it all. She’s brainwashed me into believing that my value does not come from who I really am, but by the primped mask I wear to cover it all up. And I’ve believed the whole thing.

She gave me several hard beatings these past couple of weeks, and I buckled under all of her lectures. I gave in, and accepted her words as truth. My evil twin made me weep as I realized I would never meet the expectations she laid out before me.

But as I was looking for a particular verse in my Bible recently, I came across one that caught my attention. Is. 45:9b, “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?” This made me recall Romans 9:20, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,  “Why did you make me like this?”’

And so I started thinking. This message was the complete opposite of what my evil twin was telling me – these verses rebuked me for my mentality. I am clay in the Potter’s hands; who am I to talk back to Him, and ask how He could make me like this? He is the grand Potter, fashioning me into whatever He pleases. I am small and insignificant; how dare I say that He made a mistake when He formed me?

These verses, however, show me that I was made with a purpose, made with a design. I was formed – I wasn’t just a lump of leftover clay. He didn’t make any mistakes with me; He created me EXACTLY as I was meant to be, without any slip-ups. He has made me the one Lauren S. out of the whole world. (Yes, even the glasses and big feet are a part of the whole package.) But I am to rejoice in who He made me, because I am made with a purpose. I was designed, and formed by the grand Potter.

The same goes for everyone else out there who compares themselves, regardless of what it is you compare yourself to. You’re special – you really are. God made you exactly as He wanted you to be, without any mistakes or flaws. He loves you for who He made you to be, and He wouldn’t want you any other way. Why should you want something different? Do not question the Potter.

Rejoice!

Most people are well familiar with these verses, I know, but I’d like to share my thoughts on this particular passage, of which I’ve been reading over and over again this week and last. It’s been a hard past few weeks, and this passage somehow keeps drawing me back. I’ve been doing some thinking about some of these specific verses.

Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The first thing that strikes my mind is the very first verse, as I’ve already mentioned I’ve been going through some harder stuff recently, and I’ll focus on this one primarily today. I’ll get to other parts of the passage hopefully soon. Meanwhile, I admit that that’s been a concept rather far from my mind – I’ve just been trying to survive, not rejoice!

Now I’ll be one of the first to tell you that I don’t like it when people shove that cliché statement at me. “During the hard times, just rejoice! REJOICE REJOICE REJOICE!” Usually, it only makes it worst, quite honestly.

But the fact of the matter is, it’s still a truth that I must live out in my life.

Rejoice – always? Even when life disappoints you? Even when darkness surrounds you? Even when you’re so overwhelmed you can hardly move?

Yes.

Paul places a definite emphasis on this concept of rejoicing, which I find interesting. He states it not once, but twice, finding it important enough to bear repeating. Rejoice in the Lord… always. He doesn’t give exceptions here. He doesn’t write, “Unless you’re dealing with this issue,” or “Unless you’ve got this going on over here.” Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

We wrinkle our noses at such a thought. When the tears are falling and don’t seem to stop, and life is overwhelming and it makes me want to quit, I don’t see anything to rejoice about. When life stinks, it’s hard to rejoice. It’s just a fact.

But Paul isn’t asking them to try to rejoice. He’s not bribing them, begging them, pleading with them. He states it simply, matter-of-fact: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

The truth of it is, we do have reason to rejoice, even during our darkest hour. We may struggle to remember, struggle to see what we have to rejoice in. But that doesn’t change it.

We have the love of our Father to rejoice in. We have the truth of His grace and mercy to rejoice about. His goodness, His undeserved gift of salvation, His freedom – this is what we can rejoice about. Because even in those dark moments, even when we want to throw in the towel and give up on life, He loves us. That never changes. His love for us is something that will carry us through the mountains and the valleys, something that will never die or fade away. We have our Lord Jesus Christ to rejoice in, even through the trials.