Is it Right or Wrong?

JLUgraffiti

While driving down the highways, perhaps you’ve come across “Christian vandalism” that has sayings like, “Jesus Saves” or “Jesus Loves U” spray painted on the side of a bridge or a wall of rock.  I always wonder what they were thinking when they did that.  Why would someone break the law to share a message that, although important, shows people that Christians do not respect the law?  Does the end truly justify the means?  Perhaps the Christian vandals believed what was good (or better) was the message, therefore they declared their vandalism, which is legally wrong, was right.  This leads me to the passage of Scripture (Isa 5:20) that states, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”  How easy it is to excuse or justify actions and call them good when they have already been defined as bad (or evil).

How does evil become good and good become evil?  How does wrong become right, and right become wrong?  How does this exchange of morals happen in our lives?  Let me give a few thoughts as to how this happens:

  1. Acceptance of Rationalizing, Justifying & Blaming:  When we rationalize, we minimize the seriousness of ours and other’s actions.  “Oh, he was just tired,” “It’s no big deal.  Others have done worse,” “I wouldn’t have done it if you didn’t do that,” “She made me angry!”“He deserved it!”  “God wants me to be happy, so it’s OK that I leave my spouse.” All of these are rationalizations justifying ourselves or other’s actions, and we accept them as excuses.  When we rationalize, justify, blame, or excuse our actions, we proclaim our actions are “better than” others’ actions, or we declare our actions are acceptable.  As we believe our own rationalizations and justifications, we begin to declare our actions as morally good. It’s OK to break the law and spray paint “Jesus Loves You” on another’s property because maybe somebody will get saved.  It’s OK to personally tear down a public statue because it represented something I never believed in.  It’s right to be rude to people who don’t agree with me because they are dumb.  Sometimes it doesn’t take long to convince ourselves into doing something we know may be wrong for something we believe is right.  Eventually, however, we’ll actually believe our actions are right because our cause is right, too.
  2. Defining what is “Good” and “Evil”:  Who defines what is “good” or what is “evil”? If what is “good” and what is “evil” is simply defined by God, we have a starting point of discussion and interpretation.  If we define what “good” or “evil” is, not God, then our definition of “good” or “evil” must be suspect as we are imperfect & flawed beings due to our sinful or selfish natures.  Since we are not All-Knowing, our perspectives are based on our own experiences, perceptions, and assumptions. We may act on what seems to be right / best for us, but that may not be right / best for others or right / good according to God.  If we can’t agree on what is good, and defining good is subjective (we define our own good), then we will be more likely to stray and turn from what God has defined as evil as good, and vice versa.  Why? Because we’ll be guided by our seared consciences, selfish tendencies, misguided assumptions and interpretations, and personal experiences.  We call evil good and good evil because we’ve redefined these words and decided to trust ourselves and not Him.  In Mark 10:18, Jesus states that “no one is good, but God.”  If that is the case (and I believe it is), then only one who is truly Good can truly define good, not ones who are tainted by sin.
  3. Interpretive Lens: As stated in former blogs on Black & White Thinking: An Introduction (Part 1 and Part 2), our interpretive lenses play a significant role in defining what is right and wrong.  For example, in our political climate, we see how both Republicans and Democrats are guided by what they think is good and right. On one hand, many Republicans are presently guided by following the law, constitution, and following processes and procedures to make laws (consider DACA and immigration – illegal aliens are “illegal”, and congress must change laws, not the president).  Following the laws is what is good and right and best.  Many Democrats are presently guided by hearts of compassion for immigrants and their families. Compassion, love, and sympathy for the suffering is what is good and right and best.  Although this brief explanation is somewhat simplified, both parties (and individuals) act according to what they believe is good, right, or best.  Each side has strengths and weaknesses, but our interpretive lenses (law, black & white thinking, concrete issues/concepts vs compassion, empathy, abstract issues/concepts) play a significant role in what we determine is right or wrong.  Being created in His image means that we have the capacity for both (as He is both law-giver and merciful), but we tend to lean more towards one than the other.   Micah 6:8 gives us a great reminder of what we need to do that is good: He has shown you, O mortal, what is goodAnd what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Both are good, according to God, but we must tread humbly as we discern what is best.

How do you define what is “good and right” versus what is “bad and wrong”?  Would you stand on your own definitions, those of the culture or society, or on God’s definitions?  Do you personally lean towards following laws or standards as good and right or on following your feelings as good and right? Or perhaps being compassionate is right and following laws are therefore wrong?

Many of the conflicts in American society and politics, from kneeling or standing for the anthem or issues such as DACA and building walls, come down to how we align ourselves in determining what is good/right from what is bad/wrong.  As believers, we certainly do need humility and discernment to listen to opposing views and to treat one another with respect and dignity despite any differences.  And perhaps there will, at times, not be a choice between what is right & good versus what is wrong & bad, but instead about what is “better or best.”  One day, perhaps very near for us in America or here already in other countries, there will need to be a choice between obedience to the law (which is largely good) versus obedience to God (which is always good).  We will need to discern and choose the best option, which is to follow God over worldly authorities.  Until that time comes, let’s make sure that the good we believe and know is the good that comes from God alone, and is not defined by culture or by ourselves.

 

Insecurity and Black & White Thinkers

in·se·cu·ri·ty  ˌinsəˈkyo͝orədē/
noun
 1.  uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence.
  1. “she had a deep sense of insecurity”
    synonyms:  lack of confidence, self-  doubtdiffidence, unassertiveness,  timidityuncertaintynervousness,  inhibitionMore

Insecure _brett ellis

Insecurity is something most of us have faced at some time or another.  It doesn’t matter who you are, your personality, location, ethnicity, sex, etc.  Insecurity is feeling self-doubt and a lack of confidence in who we are (identity) and what we are worth (value). Typically, most of us have felt this in our teen years, or even earlier.  We first look to our parents for security (worth, etc.), then to peers and also to performance.  If our peers like and accept us, or our performance in school or sports or arts gets us recognition & praise, then we feel good and have value.  When considering parents, peers, and performance for our sense of security or worth, we can generally do without one, maybe two of them, but we have a hard time living without affirmation in all three.  We may even grow older continuing to seek worth and approval by continuing to perform well, please parents, or please peers, but eventually performance and people pleasing backfire in relationships.

For Black & White Thinkers who are insecure,  the “all or nothing” thinking plays a significant role in the interpretation of both words spoken to them and events surrounding them. As a result of the “all or nothing” / “right or wrong” thinking, they come to conclusions of negative self-worth.  (Note: As a negative self-worth is present in depression, I recommend reading Black & White Thinking in Depression to understand how some of the thinking occurs.)  Insecure individuals have a difficult time distinguishing between behaviors / actions and personhood.  If you do something bad (actions), this means you are bad (personhood).  And if you are bad, then your sense of worth decreases.

An insecure person generally takes things personally.  Words of instruction or direction may be taken as criticism.  Where Black & White Thinking may occur is when another person says they didn’t do something well, this is interpreted as meaning they did horrible.  If one says they did good, this means they either did great or horrible (if they are perfectionists).  It typically goes to either side of the extreme.  There is no middle ground for many Black & White Thinkers.  

Responsibility & Protection

For some Black & White Thinkers, to accept responsibility for wrong (actions) would mean to admit fault.  Admitting fault or guilt would mean they are bad, horrible, no good and worthless (personhood), and means they are entirely to blame for the issue (100% at fault).  In order to protect themselves, some use blame-shifting, justifying (“I yelled because you disrespected me!“), and may even attack others so as to keep their fragile personhood in tact (0% at fault).  For example, if you try to tell a Black & White Thinker that they did something wrong in a conflict, it is quite possible that they will think you are blaming them for the entire conflict.  Why? Because they are either all to blame or not at all to blame.  If they are all to blame, they are all bad or wrong. There may not be any middle ground.  To take responsibility (or admit guilt or wrongdoing) only for their part (25%, 50%. 75%, etc.) may be difficult to grasp.  So, they may either become down and depressed (feeling blamed for everything) or they may become more verbally aggressive (attacking others who they feel attacked them).  This does not occur in all Black & White Thinkers, only those who are more insecure.

Self-Protection & Preservation is one of key tasks of an insecure Black & White Thinker. Often, feelings of hurt, rejection, grief, abandonment, etc. are too difficult to bear.  Since Black & White Thinkers are more concrete, and feelings are abstract, working through such intangible feelings may seem an impossible task. Additionally, since such negative feelings of hurt, rejection, and abandonment are both difficult and painful to feel,  Black & White Thinking may increase in order to simplify life and nullify feelings.   It’s almost as if the protection mantra is this, “If the feelings aren’t acknowledged or felt, they are not there.  They don’t exist.”*  So life is simplified outside of emotions by refusing to feel, painful emotions are minimized, and the concrete words and actions become more of a focus.

Healing often begins when the negative emotions of hurt, rejection, and abandonment are acknowledged and worked through (felt), rather than ignored.  This is best done after the individual first recognizes that their emotional security (identity, self-worth & value) rests in God’s love and Christ’s actions on the cross, and not on what others have said or done to them, or in their own performance.  In order to work through such emotions, it would be wise to work through them with a trained Christ-centered counselor or a close, trusted friend or pastor.  Being anchored in the Truth of God’s love and grace for them is essential in working through insecurity, as our worth and value must be anchored in the Truth of God’s Word.  As God’s love and grace for us becomes more real, we are able to acknowledge guilt and responsibility because our sense of value and worth is based on the permanence of His love and grace, and not on our inconsistent selves or others varying words or actions.

If you are a Black & White Thinker, please consider how you have dealt with the negative emotions of rejection, hurt, grief or abandonment.  Have you allowed yourself to feel them and work through them, or have you simplified the emotions into anger or ignored them entirely?   Are you able to take responsibility for your actions alone and seek forgiveness for them, or do you blame-shift, justify, or refuse any guilt for words or actions you have expressed?  If so, please also consider that God made you to be both a physical being, spiritual being, and emotional being.  Working through painful emotions is a sign of maturity, and admitting fault or blame does not change your worth or value (it is actually acting in obedience to Christ!) and may even bring you closer to family members.

 

*At times, negative feelings of hurt, rejection, grief and abandonment filter into the one emotion that is acknowledged and deemed acceptable: anger.  Anger can be a lightning rod of emotions where the negative emotions are simplified in the expression of anger.  In such situations, physical confrontations or emotional abuse may not be far behind…

For More on Black & White Thinkers:

The Black & White Thinker: An Introduction

The Black & White Thinker: An Introduction (Part 2)

Black & White Thinking Through a Biblical Lens

Grace & the Black & White Thinker

The Black & White Thinking Christian

Is Black & White Thinking a Mental Illness?

Black & White Thinking in Depression

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

Black & White Thinking in Anxiety

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Men & Women

Black & White Thinking in Anger

Emotions & the Black & White Thinker

Black & White Thinking in Depression

The following blog is Part 5 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Click on the links for Part 1 (Introduction), Part 1b (Introduction)Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), and Part 4 (Mental Illness?).

b_w-thinking-pic

According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.”  It is characterized by low energy or fatigue, change in appetite and sleep, low self-esteem, poor concentration or inability to make decisions, and feelings of hopelessness.  Feelings of guilt, shame, being unloved, and numb feelings can be oppressive and lead to inactivity and loneliness.  The more severe the depression is, the more likely the oppression seems to control you (thoughts, actions, mood, etc.), which means the more you feel powerless to control yourself.

Some of the writings about depression state that the depression itself causes thought patterns.  Though I am unsure as to whether depression itself causes negative thought patterns, I can certainly say that they are present in depression.  One of the common thought patterns found in depression is Black & White Thinking.

b_w-diagram-1If we take a look at the diagram on the left, we see the green ball which represents the actions or words of another, or events that take place.  The Black & White Thinker hears the words (green ball) and they are interpreted (fall all the way down the triangle) as either “all or nothing” or “black & white.”  There is no stopping the interpretation until it reaches the bottom. For example, a student who is depressed will tell herself after receiving a “B” on a test: “I failed it.  I’m stupid.”  A father who did not handle a situation well will tell himself, “I’m a lousy father.  I’m a failure.”  The event happened and the interpretation of themselves goes to one side or the other.  But a “B” certainly is not failing, but far from it! The father may not have handled a situation well, but that does not mean that he is a horrible father as he has probably done many things well!  In Black & White Thinking, the simple conclusion is that it has to be one or the other.  To conclude that a “B” is not stupid or that a good father can make poor decisions is difficult to comprehend, let alone believe.

People struggling with depression make similar conclusions about themselves.  “I am unloved.”  “No one really cares.” “I am a failure.”  “All is hopeless.” “Nothing will help me.”  When Black & White Thinking is present and its conclusions are believed, the depression gets worse.

We not only feel oppressed by our depression, but we also participate in our depression.  In other words, we not only feel it, but we do it.  We actively (or passively) engage in our depression.  We may wear dark clothes, think depressive thoughts, remain in bed, and basically obey our feelings.  At times, we may not feel as though we have a choice, even though we do.

In order to combat the Black & White Thinking in Depression (or in general), new conclusions based on a different Truth needs to be introduced.  This new Truth is not based on one’s own flawed interpretation, but it is a Truth based on God’s Word.

Take a look at the second Diagram to the right.  Here, wb_w-diagram-2e see that with the intervention of God’s Truth, the green ball does not fall to the previous Black & White conclusion, but instead falls a shorter distance.  And what are these new conclusions based on God’s Truth? Let’s go back to the examples.  In both cases, the Truth of God’s Word (based on Rom 2:8, 3:23, 8:1; Jn 3:16) is the following, “I may not have done as well as I would have liked, or maybe even failed, yet I can expect to do poorly at times as ‘All have sinned and fall short.’ But who I am is based on Christ’s actions for me, not on my own actions (grace).  Therefore,  I may have failed, but I am not a failure.  I am loved, worthwhile, blessed, cherished, and adored by Him…not because of what I have or have not done, but because of who He is.”  Or perhaps these Truths may be better for others: “I know I failed or did poorly.  My failures were taken to the cross by Jesus.  Therefore, I do not need to punish myself any further, as my punishment fell on Christ.”  When these Truths become more important than personal truths and conclusions, and when they are trusted and believed more than one’s own truths, there is progress made for those who struggle with Depression.

It sounds simple enough, yet it is difficult for someone who is depressed to think differently as they have been thinking this way for a long period of time.  At times, medication may be necessary to lift the person up to be able to challenge their own thinking successfully.  Other times, medication is not necessary at all.  It may be necessary only having accountability and a list of God’s truths available to rehearse, repeat, and challenge the Black  & White Thinking.

What are some other examples of Black & White Thinking found in Depression?  How about truths that have helped?

Black & White Thinking is not only found in Depression, but it is also found in Anxiety as well.  Next week, we will take a look at Black & White Thinking found in Anxiety Disorders and God’s Truths that will help!

Dealing With Difficult Emotions

Sequoia

A few weeks ago I went on vacation with my family to California and we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park as well as some other sights that were simply breathtaking.  From all the sites we saw, I was most taken back by the Sequoia trees.  The General Grant Sequoia tree (third largest in the world) was so large, it would take 20 adults holding hands to be able to surround it.  Since I grew up as an East Coast boy, these trees simply fascinated me.

We happened to see a cross section of one of the fallen sequoias, which had numerous scars on it that showed it survived 9 fires in the course of its life.  Apparently, fires were good for the sequoia because it cleared the land of the other trees (allowing more sunlight & rain) and the heat allowed the seeds to expand and to be released in the area.  This provided optimal surroundings for the sequoias to flourish in the area.  Without the fires, the trees would not have grown so large.

Life certainly has its own fires, struggles, griefs, pains, conflicts, and traumas.  Some are minor inconveniences while others are real-life nightmares.  All cause enough grief to know that to experience the fires means getting burned, something to avoid at all costs.

Physical pain is something we try to avoid, but if we know it is for the better, we will be willing to endure it.  We’ll endure a dental filling so we can eat without further pain, surgery to repair our bodies so we can live or function better, or even endure strenuous exercise so we can look better.

Emotional pain, however, is a different story.  Emotional pain cuts to the heart of who we are.  To feel the emotional pain of rejection and worthlessness, or grieve losing someone so close…or to feel the emotional pain of guilt, shame, fear or loneliness…these are the parts of ourselves that we either hate to feel or fear to feel.  So we avoid it.  Perhaps we fear being fully exposed to others or fear that we truly are worthless.  If others truly knew what went on inside of us, we believe we would die.  Perhaps we are afraid of being down so low that we will never recover.  Maybe we are fearful that we will lose everything or believe that to feel such feelings make us less manly (for men) or even human.  These feelings are uncomfortable and we hate to feel them.  So what do we do?  How do we deal with them?

Everyone has their own way, but typically, we deal with our feelings by not directly dealing with them.  Rather than acknowledging what we feel and addressing them based on the circumstances, we act on them. Instead of telling someone we are hurt because of what they said or did, perhaps we will take it out on others or ignore them.  Rather than admit we are depressed and work on the why’s, we will eat ice cream or chocolate, drink alcohol, look at pornography, watch TV, play games, sex, listen to music, anger, etc. etc.  Rather than turn to a loving and actively interested God, we turn to other things to deal with our emotional struggles, and often those things become our go-to vices, some of which are addictive.

The Psalms are excellent examples of men who felt the frustrations of this life who struggled with the difficult emotions amidst the trails of their lives.  In dealing with emotions, David (and other Psalmists) wrote their anguish and struggles down and how they were able to get to the other side of the struggle emotionally.  The emotions written in the Psalms were not considered only positive emotions, such as joy and contentment, but also emotions of frustration and anger, of sadness and distress (22, 1-2; 55:4-8), and of sorrow and guilt (51, 38).  He was willing to talk to God about his complaints (64:1-6), to seek God when life seemed unfair (41:1-2), and even let out some anger and some unwholesome desires for God to smite those who have done evil (58:6-8).  He sought the Lord crying out for mercy (51:1) and sought the Lord when crying out for a savior (69, 70).

In the Psalms, all emotions that are present are worked through, but they are dealt with in relation to God.  As Christians (and an encouragement to those seeking), our emotions (positive and negative) are best dealt with in relation to God.  As we read through the Psalms, we see that ultimately it wasn’t simply the expressions of the emotions to God (though that is the first step), but the promise of His character – His strength, justice, love, mercy, and patience – is what brought the Psalmists through the fires.  As a result, they grew stronger in their lives and in relationship with the Lord, thus being able to “deal” with life’s fires emotionally and physically.

Like the sequoia, life’s fires have the opportunity to help us better grow as we learn how to deal with these fires in relation to God.  If we were to deal with the fires without Him at the center, we may miss valuable opportunities to flourish in Him and in life…and the seeds of our life-changing witness may not take root into other’s lives.  How do you deal with all of life’s fires?  How do you deal with your negative emotions (sadness, anger, guilt, frustrations, shame, grief, anxiousness, distress, and sorrows)?  Don’t simply avoid them, drown them, silence them, or ignore them, but process them…and remind yourself who God is…He is love.  He is good.  He is strong.  He is just.  He is faithful.  He is trustworthy.  He is God.

Is this the Real Peace of God?

Peace2bOver the years, I’ve had the privilege of counseling many people from both the church and at Foundations.  When going through struggles personally or in marriage, many of the clients shared at some point that they felt at peace with God. What is baffling to me is how people can feel at peace when their actions have been contrary to the Word.  What exactly does this mean?  Can there be a peace from God when actions are contrary to Scripture? Or is there only peace when one is acting in accordance with Scripture?

In the spirit of Paul’s explanation of “Godly Sorrow” vs “Worldly Sorrow” as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:10, I’d also like differentiate Peace in the same manner:  Godly Peace vs Worldly Peace.

Godly Peace, or peace that comes from God, occurs when our actions are consistent with His Word.  Our actions, of course, stem from an internal belief that God is trustworthy, loving, all knowing, all powerful, faithful, all present, etc.  When our decisions are based in our trust on His character, then no matter what happens, we are at peace because we know His way is best, wise, in accordance to His will, and that all will work out for our good.

Fourteen years ago my one son was only a day or two old when he had multiple surgeries.  We received a phone call from the Doctor stating that he took a turn for the worse.  I remember praying to the Lord and receiving that peace that passes understanding (Php 4:7).  This is the peace that you get when the situation seems bleak, but you feel at peace because you know it’s in God’s hands.  At that time, I simply trusted in Him.  I didn’t know the outcome of the situation, but I knew Who held the outcome. Whatever the outcome was going to be, He would turn it into my good as He promised (Rom 8:28).

Trust in the One who is good and faithful is where Godly Peace comes from.  It is not looking at any possible outcomes, but at the One who will turn the outcome into our good, and for His glory.

Worldly Peace is the peace that comes when our consciences and hearts have become hardened to God’s Word.  We see this often in those who have not proclaimed Christ and live their lives apart from Him.  They don’t see God’s Word as Truth, as God’s Word of Love to be obeyed, but instead have set up separate morals and values and feel at peace when they follow these morals.

But this Worldly Peace is not simply a peace that is experienced by those outside Christ, but it has also been experienced by those inside Christianity as well.  One example I have seen too frequently is when a wife leaves or divorces her husband for reasons that are not mentioned in Scripture (it can be the other way around, of course).  There has been no infidelity or abandonment by the spouse, nor has there been abusive situations at all (this reason isn’t specifically mentioned in Scripture, but one can make a really good case for it), but the wife, after prayer, etc., comes to the conclusion to leave her spouse and feels a peace about it.  At times, even claiming that this peace if from God.

Where does this peace come from?  Can this peace come from God when it contradicts His Word?  Would the Holy Spirit give someone peace when they disobey God?  I would argue that such peace is not a Godly Peace, but a Worldly Peace.  It is a peace that comes when one deceives themselves into thinking that God wants them to be happy. It occurs when passages of Scripture are twisted to fit into justifying what someone really wants…to be happy.  This person is essentially doing what they feel they need to do for themselves.  Often conclusions are made and Scriptures are found and interpreted in favor of the person so that he or she believes their actions are OK with God.

When this happens, the person then believes that their peace is a Godly Peace.  The self-deception continues and lives and relationships are broken when decisions are made as a result of this peace.

So, how can we know our peace is a Worldly Peace or a Godly Peace?  Approach the answer In humility.  If you are honestly asking the question, be ready for honest answers.  Ask the Lord for His wisdom when interpreting Scriptures.  Ask Him to search your heart and mind.  Would you honestly be willing to do whatever His Word says or do whatever He wants but __________?   Ask a mature believer, pastor, or Biblical Counselor their thoughts and interpretations of various passages you are looking at to see if you are justifying your position or decision.  Since Worldly Peace comes from a hardened heart, ask Him to give you a heart of flesh towards the person you are angry with.  Pray for them.  Do loving acts for them.  Ask God to help you to see them as He sees them.

So, is the Peace that you feel a Godly Peace, or is it a Worldly Peace?

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly.

Encouraging Words

encouragement signOur teen years may have been pretty tough…From internal pressures to being accepted and liked, fears of rejection, hormones, desires, demands, etc…All of it was a bit much…but we got through it.

What helped you get through those years?  Was it academics or sports?  Family or friends?

For me, it was God blessing me through the encouraging words of others. These encouraging words were, in fact, life changing in many respects. I’d like to highlight two people in my life who spoke encouraging words. This is not to diminish the impact of others who have spoken into my life at all (parents, best friends who have listened and shared, etc.), but as I sit and write, these two come to mind.  Honestly, I don’t think these two know the impact of their words on my life. In fact, they may not even remember their words at all.  But to me, their kind words and words of hope were a part of God’s plan.

The first bits of encouragement I presently recall came from my sister.  It was during a time when I was feeling down and depressed and contemplating taking my life.  To be frank, I don’t remember her words to me exactly and I didn’t share with her all my thoughts.  But I remember her encouragement to me that I will get a girlfriend, grow taller, get thinner, etc. Really, she gave me words of hope that kept me going so I would not give up and hold onto just a little bit longer.  I listened and believed these words of hope…

One other bit of encouragement I received was in the form of a compliment from a fellow youth group member, Kathy.  We were on a youth retreat to Colorado (from Minnesota) and a few fellows and myself decided to serenade some of the girls at the camp. Afterwords, Kathy approached me and told me that I had a good voice.  That is something I never heard from anyone before and it stuck.  From there, I joined the High School choir the next year and earned a solo at one of the concerts.  In college, I joined a barbershop quartet and a travelling singing group in college (Common Bond).  And from the travelling singing group, I met the woman that I would marry at a Christmas party for all of the travelling singing groups.

In looking back, I am amazed at how God’s plans unfolded in my life.  I am also amazed at the impact words of encouragement and the giving of compliments can have on another person’s life, even my own.

So, for those who had given words of encouragement and compliments to me throughout life, I say “thank you.”  Fellow blog readers, do not focus on the negatives in others, but be ready to give the hope of encouragement and praise to others.  It only takes a few seconds to speak into others’ lives (for the positive or negative) and you never know how much small words of encouragement can impact their lives.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their need, that it may benefit those who listen.”                                                                                             Ephesians 4:29

Confessions of a Professional Christian – Going to Church

churchI was about 7 when I was pretty much forced to go to church (this pic is actually where I went to church!). I didn’t want to go. But after a short time, I actually wanted to go. Why? Because I met a friend and we were best friends til I moved away before tenth grade. For some reason, I could always be myself at church, which wasn’t always a good thing. In school, I was a perfect angel. In church, well, I got kicked out of Sunday School a few times. I didn’t always agree with my teachers. The teachers wanted to teach.  I wanted to make people laugh. I know. I know…priorities…

By the time High School came around, going to church was pretty much a habit. I don’t remember much about the services or getting much out of them, but growing more familiar with the Scriptures was pretty much all I remembered in my growth (though I’m sure there was more).  I also remember being released from my duties as a sound tech.  Guess they didn’t like the extra high pitched squeals…

College was different. No parental pressure, though there was an unwritten pressure from Christian peers (I went to a Christian college).  So I went to church sometimes on my own.  My attendance dropped a bit from High School…until I found myself in a singing group that toured the area singing at churches. That kept me in the church.  God knew what He was doing…

But what about now?  Honestly, at times, it is a struggle.  Sometimes, going to church is a way of life.  It is what you do as a Christian.  You go to church.  See people.  Talk. Learn a bit.  Serve.  Then go home.  Done.  Until next Sunday and you repeat the cycle.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat. This is what it seems like sometimes.  At least, it does to me as a professional Christian.  Church becomes a Christian tradition, a meaningless Christian activity that should help us in our walk, but doesn’t.  Sermons are fine.  Worship is OK.  People…well….most are pretty good…but going to church isn’t as uplifting as we desire.

Truth is, when church feels this way or it becomes a Christian activity, something is not right in our spirits.  Spiritual growth is stagnant at church because it is stagnant outside of church.  We’re not being fed at church partially because we’re not hungry enough.  Loving people is lacking because loving God is lacking.  Focus is often on the self while others, including God, simply become other characters in the church story life of blah.  Of course, if we stayed in this mental place, going to church would simply become depressing.

Overall, I find this to be true: If church simply becomes a meaningless traditional Christian activity of the week, than the focus of my heart is too small.  The best part about church is this: as a part of the body of Christ, we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  It helps us to redirect our focus on what matters:  1) God & 2) God’s mission.  Going to church helps us to look beyond ourselves and focus on loving others and focus on God.  It helps us to see that we are not the center of our worlds.

One thing I ask the Lord, that as He changes me, that I would not implode by my own self-centeredness, but be amazed by His glory, His love, His Majesty, and His Awesomeness. I pray that church does not become a traditional thing to do, but an opportunity to leave my world of me and drink deeply of Him.  I pray that I will cooperate with Him in preparing my heart to hear His by reading His Word and reading other godly books that will draw me to Him.  Why did I write this article?  Because I am a professional Christian.  And the “every Sunday” can become mundane.  So, I, like many others, need to be reminded that I need Him and that I need His people to love and to be loved by…Overall, I need to go to church.