Nothing New

Recently I came across an article describing the overnight phenomena of a woman who rose to the top of the music charts for her song that bashes the church. I would applaud her except for the fact it isn’t anything new, but she has been able to corner the market on criticism to her advantage.

It is easy to look at others and find fault with their lives, while overlooking our own and the church has always been a target. It is an easy target because of the expectations placed upon the church. While it is true the church is supposed to be the Body of Christ and certainly much of the New Testament addresses how Christians within the churches should behave, we sadly fall short of expectations. Why? Because we are frail, imperfect human beings who need God. The thing is those who are in churches realize this fact. We need God, we all need God. We all have our own brand of being messed up, if we’re honest. We are people. People who sometimes say unkind words, get jealous, get angry, refuse to forgive, lie, steal, hurt others, swear, drink too much, face addictions of many kinds. I’m sure you can think of more things to add to this list.

Not everyone is so messed up, but we have our stuff that God is working on in us. Maybe its fears or insecurities, mental illnesses, anxieties, relationship issues, marriage problems, grief, homelessness, unemployment, financial issues. The point is: there is stuff. We all have stuff. We go to church because we need to be reminded that through all of our stuff it is God who cares.

It is not about fitting in and conforming ourselves to be carbon copies of others, it is because we desire to cry out to God in prayer, songs, and find support from others in church. We go to pray for others, and have others pray for us. We support each other in good times and bad. We are definitely not perfect. If we were, we wouldn’t be in church. We would be on some mountain top or starting our own religion and having people worship us and not God.

It is far too easy to point fingers at the people in church and declare they are messed up and harsh or judgmental, but really when you think about it, who is really being judgemental? Those who stand back and find reasons why Christianity is not for them because of its representatives? Or those who have reached out to God and fall at His feet as a broken people in need of a savior?

I do not deny that there are some pretty bad apples within Christianity. There always has been since the beginning. There are those who see it as a way to get rich and take advantage of others, There are those who exploit women, and children. There are those who lie and cheat in the name of God. This is never accepted by Christ, but it happens because this world is pretty messed up, inside and outside the church.

I hope no one would look at my life and judge Jesus by it. I am not perfect. Only Jesus is. I am a work in progress.

Last year I went on a very popular diet plan in order to lose weight before our son’s wedding. I had used this particular plan before, so I thought it would work great to shed a couple of pounds and fit into my wedding clothes easier. Well, if I had told you I had been on the plan and convinced you it would work for you, you might have questioned me. It didn’t work. Well, let me put it this way…. I didn’t do the work. I was lazy. The plan didn’t work, because I didn’t stop eating some of the foods I really liked, and I didn’t really exercise. The reality is that reading the plan, tracking the food, buying special foods, wasn’t going to work if I refused to realize my metabolism had changed as I got older, and that I needed to get rid of my bad habits- junk food and watching tv.

So, if someone wanted to look at me and judge the diet plan because of the way I looked to them, it would be easy. I would look like a failure, or more importantly the diet plan would look like a failure. Soon, word would spread to avoid this diet plan, because it was a fake, that it took your money, and did not produce the desired results. Examples would be found of others who were still overweight after joining the program. Photographs would flood social media and soon it would go viral. It would be called a scam, even if it did in fact work for some people.

We have become such a critical judgemental society, the very thing that Christianity is accused of being, without realizing the common thread in our criticism: we criticize ourselves when we criticize others about being judgemental. If we judge others for being judgmental, we are in fact being judgmental. We are all people. Imperfect people. All of us. Finding fault in others is easy. Blaming others for our own insecurities is easy. Humbling ourselves and admitting maybe we need God is hard.

Real (estate)

It was the perfect time of day. The day time sky had not quite given in to the blackness and darkness of the night sky, but was holding on for just a bit to its reflection of blue. It was a soft blue, almost purple, but you could tell it had been a brilliant blue in the brightness of daytime. The sun had set and was casting a loving glow upon the wispy clouds. The clouds were not big and puffy, but just small and wispy, like the contrails of a jet. They as well seemed to be trying to hold on to the last bit of day as they shown in a soft pink color. Some call this time the golden hour.

The sky view was blocked slightly by the house. But the house itself did not seem dwarfed by the sky as it was larger and grander than most. Someone had turned the lights on inside already anticipating the coming nightfall. In fact, each room had the glow of a soft yellow light and because the curtains had not yet been closed, you could see a hint of the room inside. Each window was symmetrical with the large door in the center. I had studied some architecture in college so I knew this would fall into the category of Georgian style. It looked so amazing at this perfect time of night. Almost magical and surreal. So perfect. Almost unbelievable.

And it was. You see it was a real estate listing I was staring at on my phone this morning. No, I’m not looking for a house, it just was one of those social media pop ups, probably because of a word suggestion made earlier by one of my sons. You see both my sons are photographers and videographers who work in real estate. So I am very familiar with how real estate photo shoots are done. When someone is ready to sell their home they typically call an agent to list their home. The agent calls my son and a time slot is given to shoot the home. My son edits the photos to some degree and then they are sent to another editor to finalize the pictures. I have heard from them just how far some home owners want them to edit the photos. Thankfully, my sons will not edit out something that would misrepresent the home- such as a door or window. But gaining in popularity with home sellers is the twilight shot. I have to give my sons quite a bit of credit here as they actually will go out at the golden hour and photograph a home. However some home sellers want an ideal picture with the purplish sky and pink clouds that are not real. The colorization is so intense that it is like a dream sequence, not reality. I’m not sure what people think who actually see the homes in person, but at least it gets them to visit the home.

We all know about air brushed photos of models on magazine covers, but have you ever thought that we too airbrush and edit our lives to look good for others? Let me be even more specific, have you ever thought about the church doing this? If you haven’t then let me assure you it does. I know because I am the church. We all are. If you call yourself a Christian than you are part of the body, the church. And I have been so guilty of this at times. But what if we could just be real with each other and stop showing up on Sunday mornings all edited and air bushed to perfection. Please I am not talking about showing up in our pajamas and without makeup. Makeup is okay as is hair coloring, and tattoos and piercings. Just be yourself and be transparent. Don’t try to hide your struggles and imperfections from each other. If you were perfect than you wouldn’t need God or a Savior.

And for all who read this who think they can’t visit church until their life is all cleaned up and edited, please come as you are. Believe me the church is full of many hurting people with problems that are willing to help you tackle yours. I know some church people are really judgemental, I get that and I have fallen for the lie that I have to act and or dress a certain way to be accepted. We all want acceptance and affirmation. But, we can’t really get that completely from people, we will only find that in God. And not in any god or religion, but THE God, who doesn’t ask us to clean up and edit ourselves first to look good on the outside, but the God who came down to earth as a lowly human, felt pain and hurt and rejection by others. He wants the real us so He can heal us. Not in a superficial way that only looks good on the outside, but in a real and personal way. he knows you and your struggles. If you do visit a church this week or seek out a pastor for help and you get the judgemental, air brushed version of church, keep looking, we are not all bad. we are just imperfect so keep looking and visiting until you find the one that welcomes you without the editing.

Nothing

The server worked efficiently and silently as she placed the large platter on the table. As I focused on the newly placed plate, other platters followed, each one more joyous and amazing than the one before. I have to be honest, it was the largest most decadent piece of chocolate cake I have seen. The chocolate cake looked like a mountain of chocolate goodness. It was extra chocolate. As I stared at the huge dessert, that was the equivalent of two normal sized full sized cakes, my mind started to panic. After several different desserts had been placed in the center of the large round table, the server announced  that they were all a gift from the chef who’s child was a student in my daughter’s class. He appreciated her as a teacher and wanted to show it through offering this generous gift.

It was very unexpected and after the server left, those of us at the table began to share our thoughts. We all had had feelings of panic and concern before the server told us it was a gift. We all had wondered who had ordered dessert and who was going to pay for it. None of us at the table were used to such extravagance. We are not fancy people who regularly dine at pricey restaurants. It was not a usual place for us to go out for dinner, but my daughter had received a gift card that she wanted to share with us. The gift card would not cover all seven of us in the party, so we had all decided before how we would split the bill when it came, and now there was going to be this add- on charge for dessert. Needless to say we were all very relieved when the server said it was a gift. We would wash dishes if we had too, but we were glad we didn’t need to.

Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment of panic, when you wondered how you would pay for something? Something you had not planned for. You are unprepared and do not have a means to pay. A similar experienced happened to my husband and I many years ago while driving through Pennsylvania. We had made a wrong turn and ended up on the ramp to a toll road and could not turn around. The toll required was change only, no cards, no bills, just coins. It did not have an attendant. It was a large basket to catch the toll coins. We did not have any. We had not planned on being on this road. We could not move forward because of the bar across the highway and we now could not back up because a car was tight behind us. Then it happened. The person behind us got out of their car and put coins in the basket. The barrier arm raised and we were free to proceed. We thanked them and were on our way. Someone paid for our travel on that road, so we would be free to travel, that is to be allowed to travel on that road.

It is nice when someone else pays. It is even nicer when we really need them to pay because we can’t pay. I have been reminded lately of just how much Christ’s payment on the cross means. It means I don’t have to keep on trying to pay for something I could never fully pay. Paid in full means just that, in full. There is nothing more I can do to pay for something (my sin) because it is already paid for. Once for all time. Hebrews 10:14 says, “ For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Yet, at times I  see so many people, myself, included, who feel bad and allow guilt to push them to keep trying to do better. Now, doing better and improving our actions and attitudes is a part of growing in our Christian walk, but trying to change in order to earn a right standing before God is fruitless, rather than fruitful. It is what religion is, trying to reach god or perfection, or nirvana or doing good karma. But, that is not Christianity. Christianity is Christ coming down to save us, not us trying to reach Him.

     There are little habits we all have that we wish we didn’t. I worry and stress too much and the more I worry and stress the more I start to feel guilty for worrying and stressing. And then it leads to a feeling of failure, like I can’t change and will never change. My mind reminds me of sermons I have heard before “that anything that isn’t by faith is sin”  and then the guilt piles higher and higher like that over sized  piece of chocolate cake at the restaurant. Now, I could try to fix myself, get busy trying to do more good and trying to make myself look good, hoping I will replace guilt with contentment with my accomplishments. But, it will be short- lived. It is only when I acknowledge Christ paid for all of it, once, for all, that I can relax and allow God to work on me in His timing and in His way. He will make the changes in my attitude and help me grow in my Christian walk. As the writer of the Book of Hebrews adds;  ” This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.I will put my laws in their hearts,  and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds: Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (v.15-17, NIV).   Writing the law in our hearts and minds refers to the Holy Spirit living within the believer. He enables us to live out this Christian walk. Allow Him to lead you and heal you of those things you are trying to deal with on your own. Christ paid the toll so to speak, we need only to receive it as the gift it is. We are free to travel on the journey before us. But first we must acknowledge that we can never earn it, trying to reach God through good works or religious duties, nor do we need to let guilt overwhelm us and force us to keep on trying to earn it even after its been paid in full. Paid in full, let that sink in for minute. Nothing else will be able to add or subtract from that. God Bless -Nancy