Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Would Jesus use the "unfriend" button?

Social media has changed the way we all interact and develop relationships. There are definite pros and cons to the use of social media and its prevalence in society. One of the big issues that has come with social networking is the way we end relationships. Instead of working on repairing relationships, it's now as easy as pushing the "unfriend" or "block" button to rid someone from your digital life and  newsfeed. My thoughts today rest on people’s intentions and motivations for their ‘unfriend’ actions. For a tool that can be used to enhance communication and community, it can sometimes be used in negative or unhealthy ways.

I have done it myself.

There are other times when unfriending happens because of good reasons; unhealthy relationships, abusive behavior, the list can be as long as human relationships are complex. However, I see this type of unfriending to be an establishment or maintaining of healthy boundaries. I also hope that such disconnections are as full of grace and respect as possible.

I know of others, however, who will unfriend because they are angry, or petty, or are acting as some perceived punitive response. It can be used by a group of friends to "ostracize" someone from their social group because of some perceived wrong or disagreement that happened with one of the members of the "included" group. It's a way to make a statement that you are not welcomed or wanted in my life anymore. (Now- does that sound like something that Jesus would say?)

 People who will go through the process of cutting someone off of their social media accounts without trying to engage in conversation. People who perceive the act of unfriending to be a definitive statement on the whole relationship.
The Urban Dictionary actually had a great definition (among the many not-so-great definitions) for unfriending: “a coward’s way of conflict management in the world of social networking; to disassociate from someone or something without attempt to resolve conflict or give notice.”

And this is where I challenge the Christianity of unfriending.

As Christians, we are called into relationships with one another and with God. We are told in Proverbs that a friend loves at all times (17.17), that their counsel is earnest and can be trusted (18.24 and 27.6), and not to forsake our friends (27.10).  We are to serve one another in love (Gal 5.13) and encourage and stimulate one another in love and good deeds (Heb 10.24), to even lay down our lives for our friends (John 15.13).  We are called to enter into communication to resolve conflict (Mt 18.15), to chose forgiveness over wrath and anger (Eph. 4.31). Jesus’ ministry was one of building up community, of loving the world, of joining together to love and serve God.

With this basis, I feel sorry for those who unfriend out of spite or anger.  To me it speaks of a spiritual immaturity or unability (dis-ability?) to live out our Christian calling, an unwillingness to strive to be in relationship with one another. It saddens me to think that there are people hiding comfortably behind the ‘unfriend’ process; who prefer to anonymously break relationship rather than build it. It speaks to me of people who don’t realize that knee-jerk unfriending is less a statement on the unfriended person’s offense (whatever it might be) than on the unfriender’s commitment to community, especially community in Christ.

Now, before you protest about how the person you unfriended doesn't "really" know you, how you aren't connected with each other's lives outside of social media, and how they probably won't even notice (or care!) that you unfriended them, I want you to think about something.

 If someone goes out of their way to friend you on social media without really knowing you besides the fact that you go to their church- does that not tell you that they are desperately seeking community with fellow believers? That they want to be included in the "church" family that your pastor is always preaching about? Can you not see that they want to connect to you for the very fact that you are a fellow believer-that they want to fit into this "church" family- and that by unfriending them, you are telling them that you do not find them worthy of being included in your church family anymore.

Think about how devastating that statement could be to a new believer. Think about the people who don't truly feel welcomed I church, but are trying so hard to fit in. Those who have been hurt by other Christians but are giving it another shot. They reach out hoping that what the Pastor says on Sunday mornings is really true. That the church is a family, that they are welcomed there, and that they are surrounded by people who love them- even if they don't really know them. They reach out to connect with this "family"- only to be unfriended and rejected. And we wonder why so many people say that the church is full of hypocrites.

Our actions on social media have real life consequences in the real world. Studies have shown that 60% of people will avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook in real life. Think about that. The person that you unfriended on Facebook is going to avoid you at church. Church- the place that is supposed to be a "family" for believers. Does causing division and hurt feelings in the body glorify God? Is unfriending a fellow Christian over petty reasons worth the cost of broken fellowship, awkward avoidance of each other at church and in public, hurt feelings,
and demonstrating to the world that the church really is no different than the world?
I have to give an empathetic NO.

When we “delete” people out of our networks, we end any opportunities to share God’s love and truth, and any needed future help and support, with them. When we “delete” a brother or sister in Christ, we’re violating the principles of unity, forbearance and forgiveness. I have found getting “unfriended” by fellow Christians to be far more hurtful than any other unfriending. We ought to apply the same Biblical principles to our social networking that we do to our in-person social relationships. For guess who is behind every computer screen and who Christ has called us to love as ourselves?

   Jesus didn’t “unfriend” people. He didn’t walk away from them. He walked toward them, embraced them, called them away from isolation, invited himself to their homes, and brought salvation with him. He BEFRIENDED them. Our work is not to shun them, or to shame them, or to fix them. It's not for us to label them as "unworthy" of being in our news feed. It’s to sit at their table, proclaim that gospel in their hearing, live it in their sight.
    That’s what we should be known for.
    Because that’s what our Lord was known for.
Is it ever right to unfriend someone? The answer is yes, of course; some people are abusive or inappropriate in their posts. Why should I subject myself or my friends to that? But then the question, do you just unfriend and allow that person to stumble across their banishment? Or should there still be a process that involves a conversation?

Maybe I am making too big a deal out of this; but I don’t think so. I have been unfriended several times. In the last few years I have found myself “on the out” on Facebook and didn’t know I had been removed. It causes me to pause and ask myself, what made this person feel OK about doing that? And, if we hold up Christ’s standard as important, is that OK for a follower of His to do that? Are these people who I am in some way connected to via Facebook…my neighbor?

Like it or not, unfriending (if you were a friend) is a statement. It tells the person on the other end that you consciously took the time to remove them. You do not want to see their face. You do not want to hear their voice. You are not interested in them and you do not want them to have a window into your life. If there has been a problem between you, then this is a definite step away from. A deliberate step away.

As Christ-followers, are we allowed to do that? I mean go to the extreme end of the argument where someone is your actual ENEMY (not just someone you dislike or are annoyed or offended by) and Jesus says we absolutely, without question, must LOVE them.

Think about that for a second. People who have crossed you, someone you once claimed to cherish, are you willing to actually say, “You are now my ENEMY?” Jesus says, even if they are that — your actual adversary, enemy — you must still engage with that person as modeled by Jesus Himself in Scripture. You must still love them. I don't think that unfriending someone- no matter how hard you try to justify it- can honestly be seen by anyone as an act of love. It's an act of division, an act of no longer wanting to care for or be "bothered" by the person that was unfriended.

Scripture keeps pulling us towards, towards, towards people: back to the table. So the unfriend button on Facebook, for a Christ-follower, should be a sobering thing to stare at.

So, when the thought of unfriending someone crosses your mind, ask yourself a few questions. Will doing give glory to God? Does it demonstrate his love, mercy, and forgiveness? Or does is express condemnation, judgment, disunity, and conflict?
Will it bring unity to the body of Christ? Will our actions demonstrate that we are set apart from the world, or that we conform to it and act in the same matter unsaved people do? Does it edify others, or hurt them? What would Jesus do?
As for me, I have made a conscious choice to no longer "unfriend" anyone. If they want to unfriend me, that's fine. But I refuse to be the cause of hurt to a fellow believer . I myself know what it feels like to be on the "fringes" of society and the church, and not really feeling like I fit in. I know what it feels like to be made to feel like I am not "worthy" of entering the church clique that can so intensely dominate Christian social circles. I don't want to cause anyone else to feel that way- even if that's not my intention. It's not worth it to me. I don't want my actions to cause another person to stumble, or to give the world one more reason to justify why Christians are hypocrites and just like everyone else. I promise, from now on, if you're on my friends list- you are there to stay (at least from my end!) Because that's what Jesus would do.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Boundaries, trials, and Moses moments.


Matthew 10: 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38"And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39"He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

When I told God he could have my life, He took me seriously. He took my prayer much more seriously than I did at the time. When I made that prayer, I was in a horrible, hellacious tormenting pit of addiction and emotional turmoil  that I saw no way out of, and I was so desperate for the agony to end that I finally waived my white flag to God. It was a prayer of surrender, a last ditch effort to save my life after dozens of rehabs, psychiatrists, help from friends and family, willpower, consequences, and therapy had failed. Being in such a state of desperation was the ONLY reason that I even entertained the idea of crying out to God, because I figured he wanted nothing to do with me. It was, honestly, my last option before I took my life. I remember very vividly thinking "I'm not sure if this will work, because I am not good enough for God to possibly want anything to do with, but I am going to try. I will give it a few days, and if nothing changes, I am going to drink myself into a painless stupor and go lay down on the train tracks. What does it matter if I am dead three days from now or dead today? Maybe, just maybe, this God thing is real. I have to at least try, so I can kill myself with a good conscience knowing that I TRULY had no other options left. That way, if there is a hell, maybe God will have mercy on me because he knows I exhausted all my options" (oh, the craziness of an addicts' brain!)

I had enough faith that maybe he could save me from killing myself, and maybe get my addiction down to a tolerable, sane level of usage (I couldn't imagine being completely clean then!) but that was about as far as my expectations went. Needless to say, I didn't kill myself (otherwise the fact that I am  writing this blog right now is really creepy!) and day by day as God kept me, I started to have a faint hope that one day he would be able to take my addiction away for good, and if that happened, it would be miraculous.  If I got REALLY lucky (which I wasn't even able fathom until I was saved and sober for years and He had started to clean up a lot of my spiritual garbage) maybe one day He would grow me into being semi- normal. Once he took away my paralyzing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (which put me into horrible anxiety in social situations) from finding my boyfriend hanging from the rafter in our basement, and my ability to speak to people returned (which took about 8 months),  I started to have a glimmer of hope of possibly being semi-functional again. Maybe one day I would have the ability to almost fit in with "normal" people- or at least be able to get along with the rest of society without sticking out. Maybe one day I would be able to have a 9 to 5 job, the house with the white picket fence, a couple of kids, a car payment- you know normal, boring stuff. Things that come to people's minds when they think of the American life. Things you see on sitcoms. Things that are instilled in us from a very young age by society to want. Things that seem so impossible and foreign to addicts, who have only known lives of chaos, instability, heartache, and loss. If he could do that with messed up me, it would be a miracle. That's what I thought happened to people when they got saved and God refined them- unless you were really special like Billy Grahm or C.S. Lewis or those other Super Christians. Honestly the thought never even crossed my mind that he would use me in ministry. I definitely wasn't a super Christian. I definitely wasn't special, and I was nowhere near being even semi-normal. I was so screwed up, so different from every other Christian and "church person" that I had known, that it never dawned on me that he would ever actually WANT use me for anything in ministry. And honestly, if the thought had dawned on me then, it probably would have been enough to scare me into not praying at all (which is why, I have learned, God only shows you little pieces of the puzzle at the time. He doesn't want us getting overwhelmed and freaking out!)

Fast forward seven years- and, obviously, I was proven wrong. I have dedicated my life to befriending and ministering to drug addicts for all of those seven years except for a year long "break" period of transition. I realize now that when I said that prayer of desperation and gave God my life, my life was no longer my own- but His- and I lost my ability to choose what to do with it. I mean, technically I CAN choose what I do with my life- I have free will- but I have learned that being in the will of God and being obedient to what he is telling you to do is always the best option. It always works out for my best in the end. I have come to terms with the fact that this is my call in life (at least for the moment), and I am very grateful to be used by God. Helping others who struggle with the same issues I used to (and some that I continue to struggle with) helps me see that all of those years in addiction weren't wasted, but training for what I am currently doing. I was brought through it so I could let others know that there was a way out for them too. I feel greatly humbled and honored to be entrusted with such a task by God. I know it's what I am supposed to be doing with my life. But that's not to say that it's always painless and easy going. The problem comes when my flesh wants to do the total opposite of what God wants me to do. Drug addicts- by their very nature- are extremely selfish. They think of themselves and no one else. And it takes a LONG time to get out of that mind set- long after that drugs have stopped. Which can make being obedient hard. To submit to God's will when it goes against all of my natural desires does not come naturally. There is a lot of sacrifice, obedience, self-denial, and self control that is required, and it is by no means easy. It truly is a process of dying daily, and crucifying the flesh- which feels just about as fun as it sounds. It can be really, really hard. Sometimes my flesh SCREAMS for me to be able to  do my own thing, and, if I'm not careful, my flesh can get louder than God's voice. That's when I'm in trouble.

 My husband and I  have undergone tremendous testing and trials in the past few weeks. We have had pretty, shiny, materialistic things put in our faces that have tried to entice us away from ministry- things that my flesh wants. Things that I tried justifying God would want us to have. Things that we deserve. Things that normal people have. My flesh wanted to say yes, to take the shiny thing, but my spirit knew different. In reality, we deserve absolutely nothing, and we still are nowhere near normal- and probably never will be. My mind tried to justify why God would want us to have this nice, shiny thing. My flesh tried to come up with a compromise as to how we could take this shiny thing and still do what we are called to do- when, in actuality, it would have been devastating to CROSSroads- which we know for a fact is God ordained. We struggled for days with what to do- praying hour upon hour for God to reveal his will, and for him to absolutely close the door if it was not what the path we were to take. This was either a major blessing or a huge distraction sent to take our focus off of what we were really supposed to be doing. If we chose to take this shiny thing and we were doing it out of our flesh and not because God told us to, there would have been disastrous consequences not only for us, but for others as well.  Not only would we have been out of the will of God, but the decision would have affected other people's spiritual walks as well. After a few days, God started to show us that it was not His will at all, but a distraction. Something sent to divide our ministry. Something to get us out of here, because the gospel is being preached to drug addicts and people are being saved. Satan is scandalous. He will bless you too if you let him.

In retrospect, that test actually wasn't too hard after a few days, because we clearly heard God on what we were supposed to do. He gave us the answer loud and clear. The harder trials have been the ones in the past few weeks where God was- and is- still quiet. Situations where there is no clear answer. No black and white, right or wrong. Where either way could be God's will, and we are left desperately seeking the discernment to figure it out. One of these "quiet" trials I have been dealing with popped up after something happened in church Sunday which led me to not be able to hear the message that I desperately needed after a chaotic week of spiritual and emotional draining trials. Being denied the ability to hear the message showed me just how much I needed it, and brought up a lot of questions in regards as to when to draw boundaries on ministry. When,  and how, is it okay put myself and my spirituality first? Is it ever ok to put myself as top priority? To want to set my own itinerary for the day, have an hour at church to listen to an uninterrupted sermon,  have a day without ministry, or to have a chance to be taught to instead of teaching in order to recuperate from what I am pouring out to other people and spiritually feed myself? Or does it go against the very thing God wants me to do? Is that mindset selfish? Or is it necessary to having a healthy spiritual (and leadership) life?

At first, that seems like an easy answer. Of course, take time for yourself, talks about taking a Sabbath, you can't take care of others if you can't take care of yourself, if you burn out now you'll be no good to anyone- take time for yourself. That's all fine and good, and I wish it were that easy, but what about when in order to do that, it means denying help to the very people that God sent to me? What is more important to God? My rest and being spiritually healthy, or helping those in need? Both seem good, and both seem of good- but which is GOD?

If only it were that easy. The type of ministry that we are in doesn't have office hours or vacation days or scheduled appointments. It is SO HARD to keep boundaries- to separate our lives from the ministry. We are on the frontline of a war, and as well all know- war is unpredictable. When soldiers are called into battle, they go- regardless of what is going on at their life in the moment. That's how they're trained. And sometimes, if you don't deploy your weapons at the exact second that you need to, the chance never comes again, and the consequences can be fatal. That's how we have been trained. When there is a need, we go. It's hard to tell a parent that calls you at 2 AM sobbing that their child just overdosed on heroin to call back in the morning or that we will make an appointment to fit them into our schedules. It's hard to keep boundaries when a drug addict you have been witnessing to for months finally has a moment of clarity and wants to make the 1 1/2 hour drive detox with you and accept Jesus- and you know that if you don't act  now, by the morning they will be high again- and they decide this in the middle of your "ministry free family day" (ha! What's that?). These are life and death decisions which honestly, I don't think anyone who has a heart for addicts can walk away from. How do you put boundaries on that? How do you say, "good lucky- let me pray for you- but I'm busy right now- hopefully you can stay alive until I have the time in my schedule to meet you?"

Proverbs 3:27 says: "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you." It tells us not to turn people away, because tomorrow may be to late. 

I get that, I do. In fact, I have been living my life by that motto for the past seven years. When God brings someone to me, I consider it a divine appointment, and it takes priority. Yes, sometimes it's rough and it can be really inconvenient, but the Holy Spirit has equipped me to do it and to live my life with some degree of normalcy in the mist of chaos. In fact, I believe God put me in the ministry because he knows deep down that I need chaos to feel normal. My entire life has been chaos, and if it were to all go away, I'm not sure what I would do. I'm sure I would be really, really bored. SO, he allows me to keep chaos in my life, except now (for the most part!) it's other people's chaos instead of my own. I have looked at our ability to have the strength to press through this ministry as something that glorifies God, because our ability comes from Him and Him alone. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. So often, we have to take on double shifts. God says that He wants us ALL in. In the book of Revelation, it talks about how he will spew us out of his mouth if we are lukewarm rather than hot or cold. I go our of my way to demonstrate that I am hot. I have never been the kind of person that halfway does anything. I am either all the way in or all the way out. There is no middle with me. I am an extremist to the fullest.

I also know, however, that ministry burnout is a very real thing. I know that if I can't take care of myself spiritually, I will eventually be of no benefit to anyone. Not to myself, not to my husband, to my children, or to the people I am trying to help. I have gone through it before. That's what that "year long transition" period was. I was exhausted. It took me an entire year of being ministry free to recuperate. Something happened this week- one of my silent trials- that heeded as a huge warning to me that I would be headed the same way soon if something doesn't change. It was something that really made me look at my life, the ministry, my spiritual condition, and what realistic sustainability looks like. To  pour out to others constantly and never get spiritually fed myself will eventually result in a spiritual death sentence- I will starve to death. I absolutely have to make time for myself to read my bible, have a good prayer life, make fasting at least a twice monthly priority, and attend church and bible study where I'm NOT teaching but instead can hear the message for myself. Jesus warns of it in the bible, as seen in Luke 10:38 where he is visiting Martha and Mary, two sisters who opened their home to him. Mary sat at Jesus' feet listening to him speak, while Martha was running herself ragged preparing for the gathering in her home. Martha became angry and asked "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" To which Jesus replied: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Jesus is very clearly stating that doing "work" for the kingdom at the cost of a relationship with him is not what is best. To do God's work, without having enough time to have your own relationship with him, was not what God intended. God knows that we need rest, and to abide in Him and Him alone. In  Mark 6:31, he tells the disciples to:“ Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. They were close to burnout. He knew if they didn't rest, they would no longer be operating by leading of the Holy Spirit, but out of their own flesh and exhaustion. Not only that, but spiritual exhaustion leaves us vulnerable to attacks. When we're weak, it's hard to fight back. And it's definitely hard to be a soldier. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah was so warn out and exhausted that he asked God to let him die. Instead, God commanded him to rest, and sent an angel to give him food to eat in order to gain his strength for the task that was ahead of him. The bible makes it pretty clear that without spiritual rest, we are unusable. Not only that, but it affects our attitudes to the point that we get REALLY grumpy. Elijah wasn't the only person in the bible that was worn out to the point of wanting death. Check out what Moses said to God after dealing with the Israelites in the desert by himself:

Numbers Chapter 11:
11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

Now, I am not at that point right now, but I have been VERY close numerous times in ministry. Don't get me wrong- I absolutely love my ministry, and the people that we work with have become some of the biggest blessings in my life. It's amazing and honoring to have a front row seat to see God's transformative power at work. But, it can get so overwhelming, that you really do want to yell out to God to give you a break! I look at to these scriptures as warnings. As a warning to not let myself ever get there. I never want to feel so overwhelmed by ministry that I would rather DIE than continue on! (As a side note- I am the first to admit that I can be a little overdramatic- but that is over the top even for me!) I never want to be so worn out that I am running on spiritual fumes. God desires a relationship with me, not just the people he has put in front of me to help. But sometimes it is just so hard to give myself permission to do that. I am so grateful for what God saved me from, that I cannot in good conscience tell someone that I don't have time to help them. What if the ministry that I came out of in Milwaukee would have said that to me? If they would have told me to come back tomorrow during business hours, I would probably be dead right now. I was taught that you never turn anyone away, because you never know when God will work with someone. Who am I to make that call? Who am I to question God's timing?  Philippians 2:3 says to Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. I'm to value others, and their needs, above my own. I try to live that way. But sometimes my flesh just screams BUT WHAT ABOUT ME!!!???!!! God, I will be obedient up until the point I draw the line! I know when enough is enough! Sometimes, I get awfully close to feeling like Moses and Elijah! It is such a war- between flesh and spirit, selfishness and selflessness. Between believing that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and getting down on my knees begging for Him to send reinforcements!
I am by no means special. I can guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that every pastor and frontline minister feels like the same way at least occasionally. It's hard when the lines get blurred, when you have a ministry that is 24 hours and all consuming, and everything is intertwined. When boundaries aren't realistically very enforceable, and its hard to distinguish your personal life from ministry because- well- ministry is your life.  It's hard to know when to say no when you see every person that God brings into your life as a divine appointment, and you know that you may never get the chance to witness to them again. Sometimes, it's hard to give yourself permission to put yourself first, because we know that we are nothing without God,  and to put ourselves and our needs first while people are dying in the streets of heroin overdoses right and left seems absurd. Is my "night off" that important? Should that really take precedence? We are grateful for what God brought us out of, and want the same for others. When we gave him our lives, we meant it. To complain that it's too hard and not going the way we wanted seems- well- selfish. He said to pick up our cross and follow him- regardless of what we have to give up to do it.

I have no concrete answers. I have been wrestling with this the entire time I have been a Christian. I can't tell you (or myself for that matter!) how to prioritize your ministry versus your own needs. I think situations change, seasons come and go, and different seasons require different priorities. Some seasons we will pour out so much that we feel like we have nothing left for ourselves. Other seasons, we will feel like we are absolutely useless to the kingdom of God because there is no one to pour out to, and we have all the time in the world to focus on ourselves and our needs. All I know is that God is there through it all, and he knows right where we are at. I have to trust that even if I am making the wrong decision and ministering when I should be resting or resting when I should be ministering- that as long as I seek his face and pray for him to guide me, that he will correct my course. I have to trust that he will give me the strength and endurance to press on in ministry even if I am close to burnout. And I have to trust that if I am supposed to be resting and focusing on my own spirituality, that he will give me a clear sign to do that. Sadly, though, I usually only heed those signs once I have already crashed and burned. When I am on the verge of turning into Moses, asking God to kill me because I can't take it anymore. I have noticed that when I get close to that point, God will FORCE me to stop. It will be either through circumstances that prevent me from doing ministry and force me to take the time to spend on myself (like being laid up in bed with a sickness or a broken ankle!), or through an ugliness that starts to creep into my attitude. That's my sign that I need to focus on God, because otherwise I will be working out of my flesh.

I also have to trust that if I really need to take the time to rest and invest in my spirituality and have "me time", that God will take care of the people that I am missing out on ministering to and can't help during that time. God is more than capable of keeping them, and if I am really meant to minister to them, he will bring them back. Taking a ministry break every so often is not only healthy, but mandatory.  It's very dangerous in ministry to start thinking that God needs you. He doesn't. He's God. It's important to remember that everything will not crumble if I'm not there, because I'm not the one holding it together in the first place. He is. Taking breaks and giving myself permission to focus on myself helps to remind me of that. I need to do the best that I can- all that I can- and leave the rest to God.

My prayer is to be able to live out my life in a missional way, without sacrificing my own relationship with God in the midst of it. He needs to be first priority, because if He's not, none of this matters anyway.  I am nothing without God- and I think sometimes he lets me fall flat on my face to remind me that I can't do anything in my own power. I pray that I never lose the heart to put others first, but at the same time realize that if I don't take care of myself, I will be no good to them. I pray for discernment as to when I should pour out and when I should rest, and that I am not too stubborn to heed which way the Holy Spirit is guiding me. I pray that God- and people- see my heart and realize my intentions even when I make the wrong choice. I pray that I die to myself everyday, and live out what God's will for my life. And most of all, I pray that God has grace on me in my Moses moments.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Judge not thy internet memes...

Recently, I came across a very popular Christian blog written by a very popular Christian teacher who is followed by millions. In this blog, the author was ranting about how they are annoyed by the memes on the internet. You know, the little "e-cards" and sarcastic statements with pictures that are meant to be funny, but are more often rude and in questionable taste.  I admit, even I find a lot of these internet memes annoying at best and downright raunchy at worst . Though- a few are quite funny! The author's opinions on memes wasn't what was disturbing to me. People have all the rights in the world to hate memes with a passion- it's a free country right? It was almost a comical read. Until I got towards the end.

What disturbed me was a comment that the author made. After going down her long list of why memes aren't biblical, and why no self-respecting Christian would repost them, she made the statement "if you are truly a Christian, you would not find these funny or share them." A real Christian wouldn't be laughing. If you think they are funny, YOU ARE NOT A REAL CHRISTIAN. What a message. What a judgement. That sentence made my heart break. MILLIONS of her followers were just sent that message.

My heart broke not because I have a soft spot for memes, or because I find some of them funny. My heart broke for the people reading it who may find them funny, and who already feel like they are not good enough for God. People who are constantly being condemned by the devil and by other people for their past. People who are constantly bombarded with thoughts of "God couldn't really love me because I'm not good enough. I've sinned too much."  My heart broke for the new Christians who may still have a long way to go on becoming new creatures in Christ. Christians that may not only think memes are funny, but have a host of much bigger issues that they are dealing with in their life that other Christians would judge as "unbiblical".  People who feel like they won't be accepted by God because they're not perfect Christians who love the lord, and are trying their best to walk a Christian life, yet at every turn they are having stones thrown at them because they still have issues they struggle with.

It brought back a flood of memories of a time when I was a brand new Christian, yet still struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism, smoking, pre-marital sex, and a host of other issues. I desperately wanted God to set me free from my strongholds. I joined a small group at church once in order to get plugged in and seek out Christian friends, and I remember very vividly sitting there listening to the girls in the group talking about how horrible it was that one of their sisters got caught smoking, and what a horrible sin that was. They were horribly offended that someone would sin that way and dishonor God like that. Repulsed was more of the word I would use to describe it. Sitting there listening to them,  all I could think of was that if they thought that was so horrible, if they knew me, and what I had done and still struggled with, they would want nothing to do with me. I shot heroin. Surely, if smoking made someone "not Christian enough", than heroin certainly did too.  I left that small group feeling judged, unwanted, and unlovable to God. I walked away and never came back. Instead of it being a safe place where I could confess my faults and be prayed for and loved on by other Christians, I was met with contempt by judgmental people who though they were better than me and sent the message that God could never love me. I wasn't really a Christian, because I had strongholds that they didn't.

That was such a heartbreaking time for me. I wanted desperate to be able to fellowship and worship God with other believers, but I felt so judged and condemned by them that I couldn't even force myself to walk in the doors. They were right, I was still very sinful. They had me convinced that God would have nothing to do with me until I was perfect- perfect like they felt they were. Until I stopped smoking, stopped doing drugs, an stopped laughing at internet memes, it was made clear that I would never be accepted as "one of them", and that Jesus didn't want me. I gave up and stopped trying. If I had to be perfect to be loved by God, there was no point in even trying. I was a mess.

Despite what I still struggled with, God had freed me from many things. My testimony was powerful, and he had done a lot of work in my life. Some just need more work than others. Instead of looking at where God had brought me from, I was being judged by what I still had left to change. Thoughts like this by Christians in the church hurts so many people. For example, some of the people that we work with in our outreach ministry are pretty rough around the edges. They have a lot to work through, and a lot for God to reshape and remold. But you have no idea how far they have come. They have incredible testimonies about what God has brought them out of. What to you may seem "unchristian" (i.e. internet memes) is huge progress from where they used to be. The girl who prostituted for years, robbed people at gunpoint, shot heroin on a daily basis, abused her kids, and hated God is now saved, drug free, celibate, loves God and her children, and pours her life into helping others daily. But, the church judges her on the fact that she finds an internet meme funny. Instead of giving God the glory for the changes in this woman, there are Christians throwing rocks at her and judging her on her media choices. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? Let's find the sin you still have and crucify you for it and judge your Christianity on it, without stopping to find out your story. That doesn't sound like Jesus to me. 

The thing is, Jesus tells us not to judge for a good reason. We have absolutely no idea where people have come from,  what they have had to overcome in their lives, the pain they have suffered, the hell that  they have been brought out of, and how much they have already changed. We have no idea how far God has brought them, and how hard their journey has been. The Christian walk and being transformed into the image of Christ is a process. Who are we to judge how long that process should take? Maybe it's easy for you to be appalled by internet memes because it offends your Christianity, but for someone who was just sticking a needle in their vein last week, it's understandably much less offensive. You have not been through what they have been through or fought your way out of hell like they have. In the grand scheme of things for someone who has made it out of addiction, a meme is a very small thing  to be concerned about. There are much bigger, life or death, soul crushing sins and strongholds that God wants to take away from an addict before he focuses on convicting them about their humor. It is a process. Jesus will convict them about  raunchy humor in his time. God knows their heart. We do not.  It is very dangerous, and very prideful, to take it upon ourselves to judge where someone is in their Christianity by a small snippet we see of their life. 

My point is, it is the Holy Spirit's job to convict people to bring about change in them. It is not for us to throw rocks at them and tell them they're not changing fast enough, or that they haven't changed enough to really be a Christian.  That they're not good enough, that they haven't "gotten it all together" yet, that they haven't really changed. That sounds like something the devil would tell them to keep them away from God- not advice from a fellow Christian. New believers- especially former addicts- who have switched from darkness into light get enough condemnation from the devil, from people reminding them of their pasts, and from their own conscious due to their inability to forgive themselves for some horrible things that they have done during their addiction. The last thing they need is someone judging them about the many small issues that God still has to work on in them. There are a lot of issues that addicts have to deal with when they give their lives to Christ- issues non-addicts have no idea about. As Christians, we should be showing them grace, love, and standing beside them with support as they walk through the long, hard transformation process that listening to the conviction of the Holy Spirit brings. We need to be a safe haven for them, not one more place where they are condemned for not being "Christian" enough.

My heart hurts for the addict who comes to church in a scantily clad dress and gets dirty looks from the congregation. While I think "PRAISE GOD SHE IS HERE," many others are judging her clothing choices and giving their husbands dirty looks if he glances her way.. I praise God for the addict who shows up to bible study and swears, because at least they are there and getting a hold of Jesus. I don't judge their language.  I praise God for the addict who posts bible verses in between internet memes on their social media sites, because at least they are learning the word of God. I would much rather have the come as they are than not come at all. JESUS will convict them about modesty, their language, and their social media content. I am just thankful that they are giving him a shot and opening their heart so that he can do it later on down the line. To ostracize them for not being "Christian" enough will only cause them to feel condemned, unloved, and unforgivable, and possible shut the door on Jesus, and the church, for good. Why don't we stand and rejoice with them at what God has done in their lives, instead of beating them up about what they still need to change?

I was lucky enough to get saved in a church where I KNEW people weren't judging me. The pastor was a former heroin addict and Latin King, the associate pastor was a former drug dealer, and the entire congregation was made up of former drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, gang bangers, murderers, adulterers, thieves, liars, and criminals. They were all on fire for God, because they were grateful for what he saved them from. I felt at ease there, because I knew there was no judgement. They had been where I had been. They had done horrible things in their lives as well. They still had a lot of issues to work out, and weren't expecting me to be perfect. They welcomed and loved me in all my flaws, and let Jesus do the changing and convicting. I honestly don't think I would have stayed in a church if it wasn't for this place. THere was no worrying that I was going to be judged for what I had done or even what I was still doing. The weren't repulsed by my past or current actions because they had been through the same thing, and no one thought they were better than anyone else. We were all messed up  They let me know that Jesus forgave me of everything in my past, no matter how horrible. And, if I found raunchy internet memes funny, he would forgive me for that too. But they would not call me out, point fingers, or make me feel unloved because of it. They loved me and accepted me and gave God time to work and convict me about things I needed to change.

Christians, please be conscious of how you judge people, and what you say . What may seem like a huge sin to you may be progress to someone who has struggled through much greater things. Don't judge people off of your life when you haven't lived theirs. We all come from different place in life, and some of us have much more junk to work through than others. That doesn't make the one with less junk any better- and to think that it does is a slippery slope to pride.  To think of someone walking away from church and God because someone told them they are unworthy and not "Godly" enough is utterly heartbreaking. What may look to you like someone not "acting" like a Christian may in fact, be the result of years and years of struggle, transformation, and God changing someone. They may be better off spiritually now than they ever have been, and it's not our place to judge if that place is "good enough." They just had a lot more to change and a lot more junk to work through than you, so it may take longer for them than it did you. But don't condemn them for that.  Be thankful that internet memes are your biggest spiritual concern, and pray for those who are fighting much bigger demons. Love, mercy, compassion, and grace wins out over condemnation and judgment every day. I'm living proof.