Do You See Me?

There are a lot of people in the world.  If we were to measure how many people on average we come into contact with every day in restaurants, at work, at school, in the grocery store, etc. I think that we would be amazed.  All of us at one time or another (or perhaps all the time) are guilty of tunnel-vision and looking over those who are so close.  We become all consumed with our schedules and personal concerns and often miss the people that are right in front of us.  How much of life are we completely ignorant of every day?
The movie Avatar is perhaps one of the most poetic stories with this theme.  When members of the tribe greeted each other, they would use the phrase “I see you”.  This statement had more meaning than a simple, “I notice you standing in front of me.”  It held more of the meaning, “I see who you are, and you have my full attention.”  When I think about the void that so many people have in their lives and the void that I have struggled to fill in my own life, there is an ache when I hear this statement.  So often, I long for someone to take the time to see me like that.  I want someone to acknowledge that I am worth being truly seen.
At my job, customer service is a very high priority and I was recently reviewed by my boss.  Probably half of the items that we are graded on involve how we engage the customer in conversation and make them feel special.  I can’t help but think about how much that sounds like what we as Christians should be doing.  When we are conducting transactions for people, we may have less than three minutes to make an impact in their lives.  However, beyond the sales talks and the graded reviews, how much of an opportunity do I have every day to make a difference in so many peoples’ lives?  Some people come in every day; others I will see only once and then they leave to live a life that I will never know a further thing about.  What if in those three minutes, I could provide the one thing their heart deeply longs for:  to be seen?  They may never remember me, but it is difficult to forget the warmth a heart feels when it has been acknowledged in a real way.
I was reading a book tonight for my class, and one of the people we are studying this week is Henri Nouwen.  Nouwen was a contemporary Catholic priest and university professor among other things.  He is a fascinating study and the books he has written are deep and will leave a reader in thought for a long time.  However, one of the most stunning things that someone said about him is this:  “He approached me, as he approached everyone he met, as if I were the most interesting person he’d ever met.”  What a compliment.  All of us want to know people like this.  In my mind, there is no attitude more like Jesus.
On my commute to work every day, I pass a homeless man selling newspapers on the side of the road.  I’m sure a lot of people pass by him every day, not giving him a second thought.  Every day I see him, rain or shine, faithfully on the corner.  I wonder what his story is.  At lunchtime a couple weeks ago he had switched corners and I saw him while I was walking to get some food.  He had recognized me from seeing me every day, and we talked for a few seconds before I continued on my way.  Every day I cannot help but think about him.  I wish I would have offered him food.  I wish I would have stood there just a couple minutes longer.  There is something about this man that intrigues me so deeply.  And then I began to wonder what Jesus might look like in everyday life.  Have I somehow failed Him by walking on by?
When I lived in Kansas, I used to go through McDonalds a lot.  Eventually, everyone working the drive-thru knew me, and we would have quick conversations every day.  Having worked at McDonalds myself a few years ago, I know what it’s like to feel like every customer sees himself as better than the employee, flaunting the attitude of, “I would never work fast-food, but I eat here and I need you to remember that I always get the cheeseburger without onions, substitute mayo and an extra slice of cheese.  However, don’t put too much mayo on it, or I will come back and rip your head off for getting it wrong, because your position as a fast food worker means you have a low IQ and therefore I am obligated to remind you of it every time I see you (and use long run-on sentences).”  Occasionally we would get the customers who gave us smiles of sympathy, seeming to say, “I’m sorry that you’re not smart enough to have a real job.”  In actuality, fast food is not the easiest job I’ve ever had, and some very intelligent people work there.  Every employee has a name, a family, and a history, yet so many people pick up food and treat them like they are less than human.  I think that there are a lot of people in jobs like the one I just described.
It amazes me how much can be accomplished through genuine eye contact.  They say that the eyes are the window to the soul.  Body language experts talk about the importance of the eyes in determining authenticity.  Social protocol dictates that when talking to others, confident people will look the other person in the eyes and maintain an engaging gaze.  When my eyes meet the eyes of someone else, the tribal statement from Avatar makes sense:  “I see you.”  Suddenly that person is more than just a means to an end or another customer that needs assistance.  He becomes another human being entering my world for a brief moment in time.  He has a name and a story.  I have this opportunity to encourage or dishearten, to give hope or to disappoint.  I could be one more person among many who pass by without a thought, or I could be the only one in a long time who sees him for who he is and treats him like he is the “most interesting person” that I have ever met.
I recently had an extremely negative gas station experience.  I was looking for a nightlight for my new kitten, and being the night before black Friday, Walmart was packed and no other store was open.  My mom advised me to stop at gas stations and ask to see if any had one that I could buy.  I stopped at the one by my apartment complex and saw that they were selling blankets and other related materials, so I thought by chance they might be selling nightlights.  As I approached the man behind the counter and presented my question, he looked at me like I was the biggest idiot to have ever stepped foot in his presence and decided to take that moment to give me a lesson on why.  I left the gas station, sat down in my car, and burst into tears.  It was humiliating.  Although I had no reason to feel ashamed of myself, one person was the final straw in what had already been a difficult day.
If someone could so easily strip me of my dignity, surely it is not that difficult to clothe someone with dignity.  We have countless opportunities every day to do so, and we rarely recognize the subtle choices we so frivolously make when they are presented to us.  In the case of the visit to the gas station, I had just finished a very difficult conversation with someone and was completely exhausted and emotionally drained.  What if that man had met me with kindness, and perhaps suggested another place that I might be able to find what I was looking for?  A simple smile would have made all the difference for me that night, and rather than push me off the cliff of my composure, he would have restored it.  It was something so simple, but could have been so healing.  Instead his words damaged me.
This time of year we think of Santa, and all the little kids dream of going to the mall and sitting on his lap for a couple minutes to tell him what they want for Christmas.  It’s amazing the smiles the children walk away with as they had Santa’s undivided attention for just a short time.  As adults, we aren’t so different from children in our need for someone’s undivided interest and care.  I can’t help but wonder at the correlation between the picture of Santa with the children and our heavenly Father and His children.  I have experienced the healing of God as I sat in His presence, full of His undivided attention and care.  I will never wrap my mind around His love for every single one of the billions of people in the world, and it blows my mind to think about how He knows every single detail of every person’s life.  However, it isn’t just knowledge for Him; He truly and deeply loves them.  What if we saw every person that came into our lives as a person who is deeply loved by God.  He sees her heart, her broken dreams, and the little things that she is concerned about.  Even if I only have the opportunity to be a part of her life for three short minutes at work, I am stepping into the holy ground of someone else’s experience with God.  The moment may be very unholy and normal, but there is nothing common about the convergence of two journeys.  Whether or not she tells me her story is irrelevant.  Did I contribute to her reason to have joy?  Did she walk away having experienced a little piece of heaven?
As I go through life, I often wonder if people see me.  As a single person, it can get rather discouraging to go through an entire day being overlooked by everyone I saw.  Life can be a lonely venture, especially during certain seasons.  I want to live my days giving others a reason to hope.  I don’t want to be guilty of tunnel-vision, going through life pursing a dream on the horizon with nothing to lose.  Yesterday as I was driving to work I saw the worst accident I have ever seen.  The car was completely smashed in, and at least one person experienced their last day on earth.  He probably woke up that morning, got dressed, ate breakfast, and jumped in his car to head to work.  Just like me.  However, for him, another day never came.  Suddenly and unexpectedly everything was over.  That image still haunts me now.  If on my way to work tomorrow, I were to be that person, what would people remember about how I lived until that day?  Even though none of my grandiose dreams were realized and my current goals were left unfulfilled, what would be my legacy, my fingerprint on their lives?  Would my coworker remember how I made her feel like she was the most interesting person I had ever met?  Would my family be inspired by the love in my heart, even through the most difficult of times?
There are countless people walking in and out of our lives every day, silently crying out, “Do you see me?”  Will you be the one to look around and see beyond the surface and recognize the truth between the lines?  What will be your legacy?

Growing Up

Growing up is such a tough thing.  We are not patient enough with our kids, perhaps because we do not remember what it was like to be one.  Think about it.  A baby comes into the world trusting and dependent.  Over the next few years of her life she must learn that the world is not a trustworthy place.   Gravity is a force to be reckoned with.  Brothers and sisters pick on her.  She never gets to do what she wants to do because “Mama said so.”
Then as she gets older, people start telling her the truth.  “You aren’t as good at coloring as Robby,” or “Kayla is prettier than you.”  She learns that she really isn’t a rockstar and the things that were cute when she was little aren’t so cute anymore.  She has chores.  She has homework.  Bullies run the playground, and there are rules to be followed.
As a high schooler she struggles with self-esteem and comparison.  Joe asked her best friend to the prom instead of her.  She didn’t make the basketball team.  Kyle dumped her for another girl.  In eighteen years of life, think of all the lessons learned and the disappointments felt.
However, in all the stages of my life, I have not experienced as much personal growth as these past three months.  As I was driving down the road yesterday, I was marveling at the change that has taken place inside of me recently, and unfortunately, I can’t take any credit for it.  It has been God at work behind the scenes of my life.
I have learned that we humans are extremely complex creatures.  There is more depth to us than we will ever know.  In all the searching and examination I have done of my thoughts and feelings, I have found many gray areas where I am not aware of what the truth is.  If someone were to ask me why I went to the college I did, I’m not sure I could say honestly.  If someone asked me to evaluate how I feel about certain things in my past, I could not give a clear answer.  I was watching a video lecture yesterday for class about body language and I’m fairly certain that if I were to take a lie detector test about myself, I would probably fail in some areas.  No one knows me better than myself, yet I could lie about a personal issue when I believe I am telling the truth.  That is complex if you ask me.
However, I believe there is Someone who knows me better than I know myself, and that is God.  He is my Creator.  He knows how He put me together.  He understands how I am wired, and He sees me.  In ways that I will never understand, God enters into the deepest parts of us and works within us even when we are unaware.  We may think that we are in a dry time in life, and nothing seems to be going anywhere.  We may wonder where God is.  I believe it is in these times especially that He is much closer than we realize.  He is healing and changing us in deep and lasting ways.
There is one area of life that God has been redeeming for longer than I was aware.  Ever since I was in junior high, I was very aware of my insecurity.  I hated the way I looked, and pretty much everything about me.  I was completely obsessed with other peoples’ opinions about me to the point where I really did not have much of a personal identity.  I had no hobbies I truly enjoyed.  I had skills, but I had no interest in doing anything with them.  I did not believe in myself enough to do more than what I believed what expected of me.  Whether it was my parents, a boss, a professor, or a friend, if they did not overwhelmingly support me in a decision, it would tear me apart inside.  I constantly wanted and was trying to be something else.  I had an ideal in my mind, and I was pursuing it with all my might.
This way of life was by far the worst in college.  There was a guy I liked all through college, but I never believed I measured up.  He was never interested in me, and therefore I believed I was trash.  Instead of becoming someone worth knowing, I believed that I intrinsically wasn’t, and beat myself up over it every day.  Sure there were things that I wanted to be and I did some pretty outlandish things while I was there, like living in a couple countries, working at Mount Rushmore, and going to Africa.  However, personally, I was an empty shell covered with a gigantic mask of everything that I wanted people to believe about me.  I had a few close friendships, but I was so lost trying to discover who I was.  People ask me a lot if I enjoyed college.  My answer has always been adamantly, “No.”  It’s not the college’s fault; those were just the worst four years of my life.  It was a necessary struggle, but rather embarrassing to look back on.
When I graduated, I landed a job on the other side of campus at College Church.  This was a fantastic job, and it was a great transition from college into adult life.  It was my first full-time job (besides seasonal stuff) and I grew some in my spiritual life.  However, the insecurities were still there.  With every project I did, especially if it was a Spanish project, I was overcome by fear that I would fail miserably and bring shame to our office.  I did not take very many risks, and I was depressed much of the time.  Especially this past spring and summer, I felt like a major part of me was dying inside.  I needed a change.  I couldn’t handle it anymore.  Little did I know that the feelings I was having weren’t of inner death, but rather a part of me that was starting to come to life.
Talk about one of the driest deserts I have ever walked through.  I was super sick through this time as well, and the hopelessness that I felt was intense.  It was out of these ashes that I found myself in Detroit visiting some family and reevaluating the life that I was living.  It certainly was not a bad life.  However, God had something else in store for me.  In just a few short minutes, something deep inside of me somehow knew that I was going to move to Nashville, Tennessee and begin a Masters program.  I didn’t even know what school I was going to attend yet.  I just knew that was what I had to do.  That’s kind of a random realization to have, but I went with it.
I don’t care what anyone says, that was a big move.  At the beginning of July, I came back to work and started planning a trip to Nashville to look for a job.  Before I left to visit, I applied and was accepted to Trevecca and put in my three-weeks’ notice at work.  August 24th, I moved to Nashville.  I still did not have a job.  I had several interviews, but nothing set in stone.  I was offered a low-paying job, and I turned it down without complete assurance that I would have the job I have now.  For a month and a half, I was unemployed and totally stressed out.  However, God was doing an incredible work in my heart, and although I was concerned about my job situation, I had a peace that I was doing exactly what He wanted me to do.
I have been working at my current job for almost two months now.  It is amazing to me all that can happen in such a short time.
I was driving down the road yesterday when it suddenly dawned on me that I am a completely different person now than I used to be.  In three quick months, God healed a big part of my heart.  I realized that the insecurity that I had been battling for well over ten years was gone.  I am a confident person now who stands tall and laughs hard.  I can take risks.  I can trust and I can love.  I can make choices based on reason rather than emotion.  I took a big risk, and God and I were successful together.  I may have learned a lot of lessons about gravity and bullies when I was a kid, but this was the most significant growth that I believe I have ever done:  becoming a full and engaging woman.
This morning we sang the song performed by Gungor “Beautiful Things”.  As I was singing the words, “You make beautiful things out of the dust,” I reflected on the dust I was and how God is making something beautiful out of my life.  The most significant line in that song is, “You are making me new”.  I have always said that I believe my Creator did not stop creating in the beginning when He formed the oceans with His hand or placed the stars in the sky with His fingertips.  He is constantly creating even now, taking us to places where we never believed we would be.  This morning was testimony time, and the first speaker was a teenager who recently came to Christ.  He said, “If you would have told me a year ago that today I would be standing in front of you all, calling myself a Christian and saying that I was thinking about going to college to be a missionary, I would have told you that you were absolutely insane.”  I would say the same thing about where I am today.  So much can change in such a short time.  However, I am learning to delight in the Creator’s work, not only in my life, but in the lives of those around me.  What a beautiful thing it is to see a life taken from the depths of despair and transformed into a life that is inspired to change the world.  Who could do that but God?  Twila Paris has a song called, “I Never Get Used To What You Do.”  I completely agree with the chorus that says:
I never get used to what You do
I never get used to watching You
Take a life beyond redemption
Make it yours and make it new
I never outgrow the miracle
A heart that was empty flowing full
I never get used to what You do
God is always working.  We are always growing up.  We don’t stop developing when we graduate high school.  The lessons are still learned, and God still searches the deep places of our heart to create in us a glorious picture of His grace.  There is no life that is beyond His redemption, and He has proven it time and again.  When we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that we are broken beyond our own ability to repair ourselves.  However, God can take an empty heart and make it flow full of His love.  I just never get used to watching my God.  I never outgrow the miracle.  Like a little kid looking up at the brilliant night sky, I stare in wonder at what He does.  He makes beautiful things out of the dust, of out us.  Lord, You are making me new!

Love Come To Life

The past few days I have had this song come up in various times throughout my day, and I have really been moved to think deeply about it.  It’s a new song by Big Daddy Weave called “Love Come To Life”.  Here are the lyrics:

I’ve been restless on the inside
wondering about this heart of mine
I’ve been desperately trying to find
a way to prove that I’m still alive
Has the love I speak so loudly of
quietly grown cold
Has my life been an empty voice
what I sing needs to be seen
I need to step out and make the choice
to let go of everything
Would you reignite this heart spark here in the dark
Bring your love to life inside of me
Why don’t you break my heart ’til it moves my hands and feet
For the hopeless and the broken
for the ones that don’t know that you love them
Bring your love to life inside of me
The generation you’re calling out
living everything we sing about
The revelation right here and now
love beyond the shadow of the doubt
Love that is greater than our own
won’t remain unknown
When you bring your love to life inside of me
Why don’t you break my heart ’til it moves my hands and feet
For the hopeless and the broken
for the ones that don’t know that you love them
Bring your love to life inside of me
love come to life
love come to life
bring love to life inside of me

I have been thinking about the opportunities that we have every day for love to come to life in our lives.  What would happen if we showed Christ completely in our actions?  Without even saying a word about Him, what if we helped those we work with every day or those we live with experience what it is like to be in the presence of a loving God?  Think about it:  in the world we live in, what is most lacking in people’s lives?  True love.  How many people do you know that do not know Christ?  Instead of preaching their ears off, what if you prayed that God would make His love come to life inside of you in such a way that those same friends experience heaven when they are around you?  Your life is only made up of todays.  So take today, and let His love come to life inside of you!

Feeling and Obedience

This morning I found myself in church.  I was completely exhausted.  During some of the songs I just stood there; I couldn’t even sing I was so tired.  I was super emotional too.  All I wanted to do during the whole service was cry.  I hung out afterwards with a few friends and pretended like I was a part of the conversation but really I just wanted to be around people.  Coming off a difficult week, I was doing good just to make it to church this morning.  My participation was fairly minimal.
I’ve been under so much stress, and today I have felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders.  Work was super challenging this week, and I am behind in my schoolwork for my masters program.  I have some work for my internship I need to do as well.  I feel like I am struggling to do each of them to the best of what I perceive to be my ability and I realized this morning that no matter how hard I try, I can never be strong enough.
Probably the thing that hit me the strongest today was my struggle with direction in life.  I have been pursuing a big dream of leadership in the abolitionist movement.  Things like that take a lot of work, and I have really felt like that was the direction that God was leading me.  Every dream carries times of doubt, and lately I have been wondering as to the veracity of the level of leadership I felt called into.  There is a big part of me that simply wants to be a wife and mom.  I wonder if I could ever be that if I were to pursue the calling I thought I heard God give me.  And I wondered if this dream I have been pursuing is what I really wanted. 
So today I heard a message that I didn’t want to hear.  Our pastor said in his sermon, “This is not your life; your life is God’s life.”  It hit me pretty hard, especially being super exhausted from pursuing what I believe God wants from me.  Leaving all of that at His feet to change as He sees fit is a challenge as well, because if there is one thing I have learned over the years of this journey is that I can never been too sure about what God is doing.  There have been so many times when He has only shown me a vision of the next step in the journey.  Callings are like a double-edged sword.  When we don’t know enough, we complain to Him.  When we know too much, we complain to Him.  There’s just really no way to make us happy.
I think all I needed today was for someone to wrap their arms around me and tell me that things are going to be ok.  Our pastor said, “We like to think that we are all sane, but the truth is in my life there have been times when I have felt that I may be bordering insanity.”  That is exactly how I feel today.  I feel like I am falling apart.  I feel that I might be losing it soon.  It’s a scary place to be.  However, the truth of the message still rang over and over in my head:  “This is not your life; your life is God’s life.”
I sure haven’t felt passionate for a while about trafficking.  If I had my choice, I would go in a different direction.  That is honest, from my heart.  However, God told me today that how I feel about my calling doesn’t change the reality of what the calling is.  Obedience means listening to God’s voice and doing what He says.  How I feel is irrelevant, and that’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around, especially in American culture where we describe God’s leading so often in the terms of, “I feel that God is leading me here or there.”  Really, that’s not a good way to describe it.  There are times when I don’t “feel” like doing anything for Him at all.
I have a tendency to take my life into my own hands, especially when I’m tired or feel completely out of control.  I guess it’s human nature to think of ourselves first and to make things about us and what we want.  When that is the norm all around us, it’s a temptation that sometimes is hard to resist.  God showed me this morning that I had once again reverted to this way of thinking about my time and energy and ultimately my calling in life.
Our conversation went a little something like this:
“You are tired and feel thoroughly used up.  I understand, but I can give you strength.  You have fallen down.  I will help you get back up again.  You question your calling because you long for something else.  I understand your pain and emptiness, and I am sorry that you have to struggle.  However, I must tell you about the things that break my heart, and maybe you will understand why I have asked you to walk this road with me.”  As pastor was talking about the demon possessed man who had roamed the tombs for years like a madman before Christ came and set Him free, God painted a picture in my mind of all those in the world who are locked in prisons of their own from which they cannot escape.  Again I heard Him say, “This is not your life; your life is God’s life.”  What have I been saying and believing these past few years?  I want to live whatever life that God dreams for me, and I want the things that break His heart to break mine as well.  Today in the midst of utter exhaustion and discouragement, heaven came down and touched my heart.  There are two things that I am absolutely sure of right now:  I cannot do this alone, because I am weaker than I thought I was.  However, I know that God is strong enough for the both of us, and is willing and able to accomplish everything that He has planned for me if I will but let Him in.
Every time it comes as a surprise.  I never could have imagined the depth of love that God has for every person in the world.  Like a father who never gives up on his children, He pursues us to the very end.  He knows who I will reach out to in the future in ministry, and He loves them too much to let me have my way today.  This is what it means to be chosen by God.  This is what it means to follow when times get difficult.  This is what it means to choose obedience when everything inside of me wants to give up and settle for less than God’s best for my life.  How could I have cared for myself more than those Christ so unselfishly loved to the extent of dying the most horrific death possible so that they might have life forever with Him?  How could I give anything less than my all to Him who gave His all for me?  That was my punishment He took.  That was my cross He died on.  Those were my thorns that were placed on His head.  He took my beatings, my shame, and my separation from God and forever changed eternity.  The fact that I question if I “want” to do what He asked means that I do not understand the greatest act of love that creation has ever known.  May God somehow make this real in my life.
I think that we ask God so many times for Him to speak or to reveal Himself.  We need consistent confirmation.  Sometimes I wonder if we are like dogs who only obey because of the treat they receive afterwards.  Could I follow God even when I did not have His constant reassurance every step of the way?  What if His silence is a sign of our maturity instead of weakness?  Could I serve Him even when I did not feel like it?  Could I follow even when I doubt?  When all is darkness around me, do I have the faith to trust His heart?
I am learning every day what it means to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.  It’s a lot harder than it sounds.  It is easy to say that it’s worth it.  It is much harder to live like it is.  The truth is, we may not see the blessing on this side of eternity, and to serve Christ as He commands means that we will need to come to terms with that at some point.  Joy and happiness are not synonyms.  As long as I am living life for myself and trying to follow Christ, there will be great sorrow in my life.  I must be one with God’s heart and Spirit before His joy and fulfillment will come.  Until I learn to see the world through His eyes, love His children with His heart, and serve with His strength, I will struggle in this battle of wills.  Is it possible to truly be one with God and to know Him at this level?  Well, that’s what God tells us to do through His Word, so it would only make sense that He would not command us to do something that was impossible, especially considering that nothing is impossible with God.  2 Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  So often we see hard times as a test, as if God is waiting for us to fail.  The truth is, God is on our side and desires to give us everything we need to succeed in knowing Him and serving Him in every way.  What a thought that is!
All in all, I am thankful for the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.  I am thankful that He does not become frustrated with me and move on to an easier subject to deal with.  God believes in me much more than I believe in myself, and I hope that somehow I can learn to lean on Him instead of trying to stand on my own two feet.  I am thankful that every time I am about to give up, He finds me wherever I am at and encourages my heart.  What a God He is, and what a love He has.  I am overwhelmed by His goodness and filled once again with His passion.  I hope that your heart has been encouraged as well.

Could You Believe?

Christians have a bad rap, and rightly so.  We are known for saying that we believe one thing, and living a completely different way.  Moreover, we claim to have the solution to the world’s greatest problem, while contributing to it at the same time.  We are judgmental and intolerant.  We are hypocrites and we are fakes.  There is no question in my mind why people outside the church are somewhat cynical about those who call themselves Christians.
It seems like every day I hear about something a church or someone inside the church did that was just plain ridiculous.  For example, how many people have you heard about who left a church over the color of the carpet, the dispute over pews vs. chairs, or the tweaking of service times?  I feel bad for pastors nowadays, who cannot even focus their time and energy on ministry as much as corralling all the crazies who can’t get a clue.  Somewhere along the line we’ve missed the whole point of following Christ.  Most people probably couldn’t put that at the top of the list for the point of going to church and being a Christian in the first place.
I wonder how many people who call themselves Christians have really thought about who Jesus is.  I wonder if they have spent time trying to figure out the puzzling things that He said.  I think that sometimes we forget that Jesus wasn’t out to bless us with everything we could ever want.  Following Him means sacrificing what we think we need and want for something much better:  the treasure of knowing Him.  Well, that’s going into another topic that I will discuss at a later time.  The point is, Christians have missed the point.
Probably the most frustrating thing to me, especially the last couple years, is that the actions of Christians are causing those who do not know Christ to despise Him.  It’s not like it should come as a surprise to us that people would base their opinions of God on our behavior; Jesus told us from day one that was the way it was going to be.  I feel that for the first 20 years of my life, I was very sheltered in the church and separated from “the world” as we refer to it in churchese.  My understanding was that “the world” was a dangerous place that was out for my downfall.  However, I read in the Bible that “God so loved the world”, and that always puzzled me.  Christians live as if God said, “For God so loved the Church”, rather than strengthening its members to recognize the dangers of different value systems and equipping them to live lives around the truth that “God so loved the world.” 
I was listening to the radio yesterday and they were discussing certain phrases that we use in the Church that those outside the Church would not understand.  Things like “washed in the blood” and “carrying your own cross” come to mind.  There are also terms that we use that carry bad connotations like “sin” and “witnessing”.  I wonder sometimes if we even know what these terms mean.  We say things like, “love the sinner, hate the sin” but it’s true that it’s easier to see the sin in others’ lives than in our own.  Jesus meant what He said when He told us to take the plank out of our own eye before taking the speck out of our brother’s eye.  There I go speaking churchese again.  Many of my friends, if they were to read this blog, probably would not understand what I just said.  That’s ok…the message was for my church friends.
For the purpose of this blog, we’ll refer to sin from now on as the things in our lives that keep us from knowing God more. 
As I look at my life and contemplate who I want to be, the biggest question is how affiliated I want to be with the Church.  I believe that God believes in the Church and that He is at work in restoring and redeeming her.  Many times I wonder if God has in mind for me to be part of that redemption plan.  It’s hard for me to love or hate the Church.  The Church helped make me who I am today, and I would say that despite its flaws, it helped raise me well.  I am thankful that I have parents who love and follow Christ, who raised me in the Church, and taught me truth.  However, as an adult it is hard for me to love the Church because I see how superficial so much of what we do really is.  There is no passion; only duty.  I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time feeling duty toward something that does not capture my passion, and I cannot be passionate about something that I do not feel is worth my life.
I believe that sin is anything that gets in the way of a relationship with God.  There are times in my life when I have felt that going to church is a sin, because it has kept me from knowing Christ better…the real Christ.  Right now I am in this awkward stage of growth where I wonder how much I should even share with people, because I know that some of the things I am saying and even moreso could say will anger some Christians I know.  Honestly, I’m not too worried about angering Christians, because if what I am saying and struggling with is upsetting a Christian, then maybe he/she should re-examine how open he/she is to growth as well.  There are two things that I am most concerned about in my life right now:  how well am I following Christ?  And am I representing Him well to those who do not know Him?
What does that look like in my life?  How does the way I spent my time reflect those values?  What do my non-Christian friends think of God because they know me?  These are questions that bug me all the time, and I think they should bug me.  I keep going back to the song “Could You Believe?” by Twila Paris, and it has caused me to ask a lot of questions about who I am and how I reflect my Best Friend.  Here are the lyrics to the song and then I will share what I have been thinking as a result:
He was a friend to sinners
He was a gentle man
Beautiful, humble master plan
His voice could pierce the darkness
Quiet an angry sea
I hear Him saying follow me
I look in your eyes and I tell you these things
But somehow I know that it’s hard to believe
Could you believe if I really was like Him
If I lived all the words that I said
If for a change I would kneel down before you
And serve you instead
Could you believe
He was the Lamb of mercy
Undying hope of men
Waiting for love to come again
He is the light of heaven
Radiant Prince of peace
I Hear him saying, “Follow Me”
I look in your eyes and I tell you these things
But somehow I know that it’s hard to believe
Could you believe if I carried my own cross
If I saw that the children were fed
If for a moment I held my opinion
And quietly led Could you believe
I am meant to be a pure reflection of the truth
So above it all I pray that I will not obscure the view
Could you believe if I stood here transparent
And through me you could see his eyes
Could you believe if you saw right inside me
and there was no disguise
Could you believe if I was really like him
If I lived all the words that I said
If it was clear that I held in my heart
What I know in my head
Could you believe, could you believe
Looking at me, could you believe
Could you believe?
The song is written by Twila to a friend who does not know Christ.  Day after day I wonder what I would say if I could send a message to my friends who do not know Him.  I know that every day I spend with them, I am sending them a message of sorts.  I would be an idiot to think that they were not watching me closely.  Could they believe in Christ if I lived out everything I said?  Even in writing these words, I am making a statement.  In my blog I have said a lot of things and made a lot of big claims.  Do I live those out in my life?
The hard part for Christians is that we are flawed human beings called to reflect a perfect and holy God.  There is no way in this universe that we could do so without messing up.  We all lose focus from time to time.  We all fall.  We all need to give the same forgiveness to ourselves that God calls us to give to other people.  In light of the cross, there may be hope for us yet.  All in all, the work of God does not depend on flawed human beings trying to reflect a perfect and holy God.  The beauty of God is that He masterfully uses the brokenness of failed attempts at perfection and our willingness to allow Him access into our lives to create a much better work than we thought possible.  My cousin Steve says, “God works with humility far better than pride.”
God didn’t just give us a mission before He left to sit on His great throne and watch it all happen.  He is active in the world.  My fear for the Church is that it might become obsolete.  There are times in my life when I have seen God more at work at a bar than in a stained-glass sanctuary.  The thing is, God doesn’t work the way we think He does, no matter how mature and developed we think our perception of Him is.  As the Bible says, God so loves the world, and He is willing to do anything to save it.  He didn’t just give His life on a cross as an experiment.  That action sealed the deal on His love for us.  I don’t want to miss what God is doing in the world because I’m superficially worshipping Him with overused praise songs, disillusioned by a culture that is irrelevant to the world we live in.  At the same time, I don’t want the Church to miss what God is doing in the world, because for maybe no other reason, there’s nothing better than being in the center of God’s will and being a part of His epic plan of redemption.
And I don’t want to get in the way of God’s work in the world.  I sincerely hope that there is nothing in my life that makes those who do not know Him question the validity of Christ’s message.  As Twila said, “I am meant to be a pure reflection of the truth, so above it all I pray that I will not obscure the view.”  Are the things that I know in my head truly held in my heart?
My thoughts on this topic will probably continue in the future.  Please feel free to join in the discussion and add your thoughts as well.  Let’s make this journey together.
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