When the church hates “Immodest Women”

I’ve been thinking for a little while about this modesty thing, and this week in particular I’ve finally been able to pin-point the reasons why discussing it in church can be so tiresome and hurtful. In my eyes, the church has become a place in which anyone who dresses immodestly is separated as an evil entity worthy of scorn, shame and disrespect. Last week, I saw a presentation about modesty, during which several photos  of Meagan Good were shown for the church to gasp at and gossip about her marriage and character. I looked around the room and felt embarrassed for everyone. Since when was sharing photos of another woman a Christ-like way to discuss modesty, when the woman in question isn’t even there to defend herself? Back in school, misogynist boys used to do similar: they liked sharing photos and videos of women to each other via their phones, all the while crying “slut! Hoe!”. How was everyone’s behaviour that night much different?

I’m genuinely perplexed. If someone had an alcohol problem, the response would be different. When people speak about their lust/pornography/masturbation issues, there’s much sympathy and support (maybe because it’s normally men who speak out about these? People expect men to have such problems, after all…). I would never expect photos of drug addicts or porn addicts shared around the church for everyone’s enjoyment. It would be wrong. So why do we not give women (I’ll say women cause we’re always called out on this), who are struggling with dress reform the same the same care? It’s almost as if, by their attire, everyone else thinks they have a right to talk about them, to slander them and make judgments about their spiritual life….

The typical phrase that I always hear about the judgement thing is “well, by their fruits ye shall know them”, which is true. But people are still far too quick to come to a conclusion about someone’s character. If you are using something as superficial as an outfit to make conclusions about how someone must be, then by principal the only fruit you can confidently assess is their dress reform fruit. You can’t say anything about their personal prayer life; or how much they’re studying the Word; you can’t say what’s in their heart or if they’ve witnessed that week; you can’t see if they’re a nice person, or even their motives for dressing how they do. All you can say is that when it comes to dress reform, they’re ignorant.

Now, in regards to someone who has no second thoughts about publicly shaming a woman who has come to church dressed immodestly; who gets angry at the thought of having to be “politically correct” when approaching someone about their outfit; who doesn’t know or understand how to talk to someone about this issue with respect and understanding; who has forgotten where God has brought them from; who sees women who dress immodestly as “trying to tempt men”, or “trying to take men” (errm, maybe cut down on the Tyler Perry films?), and who gets annoyed when said person reacts emotively to their treatment—I’d say their actions speak volumes about their spiritual life. If behaviour like that is second-nature, then it says more about what’s in their heart, than the person dressing immodestly. I would even say that these are the fruits we should be focusing on more, since they verbally show what’s going through a person’s head. If a Christian habitually behaves in this way, they deserve prayers. Because in essence, they’re wasting time coming to church: they are a Christian who’s mean. What’s more, being told that the modesty issue requires “politically correct” speech annoys them. You’re going to be talking to someone about their appearance! Why would you not want to be kind to them? Have you ever heard of a Christian who gets offended at the thought of showing kindness? How bizarre.

It’s worrying because we have two classes of church-goers that emerge from this scenario. People who display fruit that don’t really look all that good. Like a persimmon, or a pineapple. Maybe their fruit is covered in dirt? But inside it’s all sweet and rich and all it will take is some gentle encouragement, study and aid to guide them to understand more what Christ wants for them. Just because they may not dress the part, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re rebellious, or that they have no care for God’s sanctuary; they want to take everyone’s husband, or they have a vendetta against all men and want them to sin. It means that God is bringing them on a journey. We all have to start from somewhere; everyone’s had their own struggles and problems throughout their Christian walk, through which we’ve all been met with discouragement and scorn and unfair judgement. Why should be pass on that same attitude to someone else who’s trying just as we are? Why not break the cycle and do the Christ-like thing for once?

The second person displays the fruit that looks amazing: a big Julie mango, ripe and fresh. But unbeknownst to everyone else (probably not even themselves, which is the scary part), the flesh is sour and rotten with mould. It’s no good, but because they wear a nice hat, and high-necked tops and long skirts, everyone assumes them to be virtuous, modest, vegan, natural; the perfect wife and all those idealised stereotypes of women we have in church. We tend to make archetypes out of women based on appearance—in the world as well as the church—and these affect the level of respect a woman is given; the confidence that church members put into her; and how she gets treated from day to day. Massive conclusions of character are made about a woman by how she looks. The person with the deceitful fruit also needs lots of prayer, that they may be kinder to those around them and not internalise the horrible way in which they were probably treated in the past about their dress.

Let’s try to remember that every speck or blemish in our characters is a sign of some sort of struggle with sin. It’s up to us to help each other not only take responsibility for our actions, but to empathise and encourage. The modesty issue is never really seen as someone “struggling” with a particular way of life: it’s much easier to paint the woman in question as some sort of Babylonian/Golden Calf-worshipping heathen, for which she should be as publicly and unsympathetically dealt with as possible. Not cool, guys.

Think before you speak, and ask God to make your thoughts as close to His as possible, so that your own faults have a higher priority in your mind than everyone else’s.

Understanding the Three Angels’ Messages

So, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. I haven’t been in the church for ages, but a good few years have passed, through which I’ve experienced personal spiritual changes. I’d like to think that I’ve endured the winter of ignorance, bereft of knowledge; enjoyed hopeful spring and the budding excitement that a joy of true Bible study brings; then summer, and that strange overabundance of everything: witnessing zeal, criticising everyone else for not behaving how I behave–and now I’m comfortably in autumn: calm, not too much of anything, mellow and happy enough that major trials don’t keep me down for too long. Pretty much just drifting along with the wind now, like leaves…

Speaking of leaves… If I remember correctly, Ellen White said that she wanted her book, The Great Controversy, to fall like ‘autumn leaves’ across the nations. The Great Controversy is about a lot of things: sin, prophecy, papal corruption; the Protestant Reformation and Jesus’ soon coming. As Adventists, we pride ourselves in knowledge (or assumed knowledge) of Bible prophecy, Biblical numbers and times; interpretation and most importantly– the Three Angels’ Messages from Revelation 14. As a church, we believe that we should be giving this message to the world and to warn others about the enormity of sin, and the return of Jesus. All this is great, but for a while now I’ve become disconcerted with this whole ‘mission’ of our church. I’m not saying I don’t believe in it, but I think at times, we as individuals fall out of place with the rest of humanity in regards to it.

I am all aware that the Glory Days of the church were pretty much in the late 1800s: it was when everyone studied their Bibles, knew the doctrines back-to-back and prayed with faith and fervor. Now, we’re lazy and slack: I’m seeing grown adults who’ve been in the church for over 40 years making childish mistakes: I’ve witnessed people who should know better display worrying signs of never having known God at all. I’ve seen it and I get it and I hate it too, but I fear the response to this slumber has propelled some people into the other extreme. Spending hours in the Word; pouring over prophecies so that they know and can do a Bible study on them; preparing presentation after presentation. They know everything. They know the Message and the Mission off by heart, even.

But do they understand it? What happens when you read Revelation 14 with Revelation 18: 4 and then Ezekiel 33?
You get a cry and a plea for people to hear the truth. You understand that being a Seventh-day Adventist is more than the prophecies and the knowledge of the Bible, it’s about what you do with it. I’m honestly fed up with Bible scholars complaining about how little everyone knows about the Word, how terrible we all are as a church, but they can’t hold a conversation with anyone–and no one would ever approach them for solace during personal turmoil because they’re not compassionate. Some people in church have a lot of knowledge, but very few true friends: people in their congregation have been hurting through the week and there’s a reason why they haven’t opened their Bible in several months. They know they have a problem and they need you to pray for them, not lament about how little everyone knows compared to you.

I’ve spent this Sabbath evening watching interviews of B-Slade (Tonex); services recorded from Rainbow Churches and trailers for the reality show Preachers of LA. I could have cried. The world is dying and in need of true, Bible-believing Christians to give them a message of hope, to let them know that there is corruption and there are problems and they’re being deceived by a false message. These people are sincere and earnest in their worship to God, and seeing the above videos and how confused these congregations/preachers/gospel artists were made me so sad. This isn’t the time to just acquire knowledge so you can show it off to everyone–it’s time to ask God for wisdom! We need to pray for love and compassion; understanding, patience and tact: we need to understand that not everyone is the same and that we all have our own problems. We have to see sin and the world as God sees it: a planet in trouble, with hurting people who have been waiting their entire lives to hear from him. It’s this that will spur us on to commit to our duty of sharing the Three Angels’ Messages: not End Time videos and scare-sermons.

To me, that’s a true understanding of the Three Angels’ Messages. God is telling the world to come out of Babylon. He calls them “his people”. Being Adventist doesn’t make you better than them: being transformed by God makes you better than what you were before.

Happy Sabbath.

 

Nothing else to be but You

Quietness has always been ‘me’. Always contemplative, I was never the person who owned the room and most of the time I hated being in new environments where  I would be forced to make friends, or where I was expected to be bubbly just for the sake of it. I’m not a showgirl by any means, but it was never something that really bothered me.

In year Eight I got into trouble with some of the girls at my school and fell into months of bullying, teasing and basically just a period of people taking advantage of my quietness. Because obviously, “quiet” means “pushover”; it also means “innocent”, “kind” and “peaceful”. It’s strange how often people make such bold statements about a person who hardly speaks and hasn’t had a chance to tell others who they are for themselves (how many times have I subsequently been accused of hiding my true self, when in fact I never told anyone that I was innocent and angelic–people chose to see me as such because I only talk when I have to). During that time I withdrew into myself a lot, and the one person I truly called a friend spent her time drilling into me, moaning every lunch time that I just kept quiet all the time. “Haven’t you got anything to say?” she would say, “why aren’t you talking?” It was months of variants of this dialogue that has today made me so paranoid whenever I’m with someone else and no one has spoken for a while. For some reason, regardless of whether we’re both silent, I’ll be singled out as the one that didn’t speak, making me a bore to be around.

I remember last year when I went to ARME camp. The friend who I went along with is very outgoing and makes friends very easily. I’ve always been comfortable being by myself; to think with myself and just observe others, but several times during our weekend together I felt as though I was dragging her back–and felt increasingly uncomfortable. To be honest, a lot of the time when I’m with a louder, more extrovert friend, I feel this way. I just assume that they feel they have to look after me…

So this year, I prayed for confidence and to be more outspoken. Basically, I asked God to turn me into someone else.

We quiet, shy people at church are always told that God will give us more boldness in the future; that we obviously don’t believe in the Word, or in God’s power, even, because we’re nervous to speak in front of others, or sing solos, or perform in any way–they tell us that they used to be like us before they let God lead in their lives—all of that nonsense. So they’re kind of saying that being quiet is sinful. It’s one thing to be scared to proclaim the gospel and to be ashamed of God, and it’s a completely different thing to just enjoy being quiet and meditative. Why would God want us all to be the same? One size cannot fit all.

It was only this week that I realised the only reason why I had prayed for boldness was because of other people’s problems. Other people favour loud extroverts, other people made assumptions about me; other people like to talk first and think later. The reason for my lack of confidence and low self-esteem was because I didn’t fit into a mould favoured by the mainstream, not because I had done something to bring myself down.

So, yesterday I prayed for self confidence. To be sure of my self. So that I would love myself, be happy with the person I’m becoming. I prayed that I wouldn’t let the negativity of others drive me to become someone else ever again. Sometimes we get too excited over the Elijah figures and the ferocious Peters, and brush over the thoughtfulness of our Moses’; people with the calmness of Daniel and our humble Esthers.  This is probably the reason why some preachers who say nothing of any weight and mar certain Biblical truths get the ‘Amens’ and appreciation they crave–because they shout and jump up and down. The ones who speak conversationally, presenting their message with calm rationality, are met with weariness.

I think it took me far too long to notice my qualities. I hope ignorance like that never drives me to pray in such a dangerous way again.

Constrained By…?

I went to a prayer meeting last Monday afternoon at Plaistow Church at which I was given an experience that I’m really grateful for. These meetings are held every Monday and there has never been a time that I’ve visited and received no blessing. These people seriously believe in prayer; they treat it like medicine and if anyone steps through the doors in dire need of help, they prescribe the dosage with a faith that I really admire. Last Monday was the first time that I’d left the meeting with a page of notes; of thoughts, that I wanted to share on the blog and expand upon in my diary. We discussed a reading from Ephesians 3 from which Paul tells the church of Ephesus to not be discouraged over any trials that may come his way but to look to God instead. The discussion on this text eventually led onto the topic of God’s love and mercy.

Paul was an interesting person and he’s probably the best subject matter after my previous post. After years of torturing, killing and imprisoning countless Christians, he became one of the most well known Bible writers and an advocate of love and truth. There are times in the New Testament that you can see his patience has been tested by the churches, or times when his faith has taken a nosedive straight into the darkest depths of his mind—a friend once told me that he displays signs of depression in the book of Timothy; as he tells his fellow disciple about struggles he’s faced but the hope he still has in God. Because of these experiences Paul encountered, he more than anyone could testify about forgiveness, mercy and love—he wrote one of my favourite passages in the Bible, the ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13. He tells us that love is patient and kind; selfless and longsuffering. This is true love and it comes from God. Probably one of his greatest gifts to a fallen race.

But with true love comes false love. Infatuation; lust; exaggeration. People who were madly in love with each other on their wedding day are praying for the other’s death or downfall a few years’ later. Someone who spent decades with their spouse, producing an army of children and good memories, can engage in an extramarital affair with alarming ease. On the news recently the case of Jeremy Forrest has returned: a 30-year-old school teacher who fell in love with one of his students. She was 14 at the time their relationship started and he was married to a woman his own age. Despite being madly in love with his student (and she with him), he failed to see that a man with such responsibility should respect a girl enough to not accept her virginity when she is underage; his deep love for her was shallow enough that he could not patiently wait until she left school as a legal adult—even more, his love and his own heart was just so consumed with passion that he was unable to see that eloping with a now 15 year old girl to France would not end well, and that she would be missed by her family and would not be able to attend school. Love should be rational, surely? Which is why I don’t like the term ‘fall in love’. Falling isn’t a good thing; it denotes something that happened suddenly and unexpectedly; a fleeting feeling or passionate emotion. You fall and you hurt yourself; you could also say ‘plummeting in love’.

Christ’s love is supposed to ‘constrain us’. Not in a controlling way or forceful bondage, but to restrain the negative nature of ourselves: his love and sacrifice show us how to live for others, live for our faith and live selflessly. His love alone provides a blueprint of how to go about things. False love is a delusion. It comes from the enemy and can be hard to detect. Since my last post about love, I’ve really been meditating on it and thinking more about how I should act if I say I love someone. Well, for one, I wouldn’t be thinking about my own lusts and selfish desires, but about how the other person would feel—also a Christian and also in the same line of guilt. I would want to preserve their dignity and body, respect them as a fellow child of God and give them the boundaries they deserve. I would be patient and understanding towards them; mindful of their feelings. I would try to adopt the Christ-like character, rather than ‘my heart’.

If the love of Christ constrains me, I don’t want to be chained down to anything less.

Sinning so much that God Rejects You

It’s a strange concept to think about, but one that is dangerously common amongst Christians…

It’s easy to place Christianity on a spectrum of beliefs. There is always one extreme or the other: the Christians who are so ambivalent towards Christianity that the Bible for them is mostly a fictional account; allegories, stories, examples, parables—and nothing that we should take too seriously. Jesus was a guy who only spoke about love; the Old Testament is virtually irrelevant to life. On the other end are those who take everything militantly literal. Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because of gay people—and not sin (which is what the Bible actually says); you have to do-do-do. It’s all about what you’ve done for God: how many tracts you’ve handed out; how many people you’ve made feel uncomfortable at your rambling criticisms of their fornicating ways… all of that stuff.

In my opinion, both of those attitudes are wrong. Together, they portray a warped view of God and of Christianity. They also distort the issue of ‘sin’.

One can talk for years about sin. It’s created all the problems in the world; we’re all sinners; we sin naturally because of our fallen nature, yadda yadda. But what does sin mean to you as a person? What does it mean to me?

For a little while, in my effort to understand it, I broke away from the militant crowd and started believing in the other extreme—after all, militancy usually makes me feel wretched about my state as a person. I believed that everything was about ‘love’ and I barely needed to ask for forgiveness because sin would sort itself out somewhere. This was years ago, but it did nothing to really console me. If it had I wouldn’t be agonising over it now.

I always pray for the forgiveness of my sins and I always believe that I’ve been forgiven, but some sins are culturally seen as more sinful than others, which eventually leads to a feeling verging on despair once they’ve been committed. I’m obviously talking about sexual sins: masturbation, pornography, pre-marital sex; lust. A lot of the time they’re hidden secrets, like sewage pipes beneath the city. People know they’re there and that many people in their congregation struggle, but it’s so shameful that no one listens—especially if it’s a woman who is going through these things. For women, we’re lucky if we can find a trustworthy friend to confide in.

Recently, my problems with lust made me feel very low. I’m eternally thankful that God has given me the power to not have sex outside of marriage, but at the same time I know that if I continue to entertain thoughts and be suggestive in my actions it will only be my fault if it actually does happen. A few weeks ago this problem really manifested itself and I didn’t want to pray about it. That militancy that had surrounded me after years in the church came back: that God is quick to anger and you mustn’t sin otherwise he’ll wipe your name out of the Book right away. I kept picturing Him just staring at me in admonition and I almost couldn’t open my mouth. How many times would I come to him with the same problem? How presumptuous can I be, to put myself in the same risk and then ask for forgiveness afterwards? How can that possibly work?

And that’s when I finally understood what sin does to the Christian—what it does to me. Sin separates us from God in all ways. For one, God is sinless and I am not. That gap in status is enough, but on a personal level, one that is based on a relationship with Him, it makes me ashamed of myself. It means that I think of myself as ‘too sinful’ for God to listen to; I’ve done too much. He’ll reject me.

What folly.

A belief like that is an indirect rejection of the Cross: Jesus’ sacrifice was made to free me from sin and give me the freedom to ask for forgiveness and the power to overcome it. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies…

I’m glad for these experiences, though. Sometimes you have to get knee-deep in your Christianity, with all its mud, sand and dirt, to find the little treasure shells beneath. It’s then that you grow to love God for who he is.

Fighting Fear and Being Encouraged.

It can be a frustrating experience to get into an argument with another Christian on any topic that involves God or spirituality. I’ve felt the frustration whilst trying to explain the Sabbath to someone a few years ago who was Pentecostal and I’ve seen the near-anger of two people arguing over the use of tongues in church. I remember a scenario being described to me about an Adventist, a Jehovah’s Witness and a Pentecostal (what joke is this?) pretty much bickering over a homeless man sat before them at a bus stop. Homeless man had been spotted: three religious people arrived at the bus stop around the same time; clocked each other, and after that it was all or nothing. Level-playing field, cups on, helmets ready–who’ll win his soul first? But they got into a bicker: the Adventist thought the best way to help the man was to get him a hot drink and some food, to help him at his needs; the Jehovah’s Witness suggested a copy of the Watchtower would be better; the Pentecostal urged them all to pray over him. They argued so much that by the time they had settled on a compromise, the homeless man had run away somewhere, and a person in need had run from the people who should have given it!

Sometimes, discussions can be helpful, especially if two people are coming from polar opposite views. In my opinion, a Christian should view such discussions as healthy: it can show you who you really are; how did you go about it? Could it have been better? What did you learn? What arguments from the other side did you agree with, but hadn’t thought about before, and will you take these views into consideration next time, to allow for empathy with others? A Christian who feels as though there is nothing to learn from others is one who thinks they are perfect already, and need a bit of a reality check. I try to keep this in mind when engaging in discussion.

Sometimes, however, discussions are next to pointless. I feel this way when debating with my dad sometimes: he’s very stubborn so if he’s found a text that makes sense to his viewpoint, nothing I say will change it. After a while we just keep saying the same things over and over and no one learns anything. There are others who are so enclosed within their Scripture that they don’t actually know how to discuss things coherently. You want an answer from them, but it sounds imposing and irrational; random Bible texts spew from nowhere; tenuous links from Old Testament stories about people who didn’t listen to others and all the curses that came upon them arrive in abundance; dubious exclamations of how much prayer you need and disingenuous offers to pray for you, because you’re going down a destructive path that can only lead to one place…

I got a lot of that stuff for a while. When I was younger, I was told my lifestyle was a dark one and I’d have demons around me; I was pretty much told to stop thinking and just obey what the elders around me called ‘God’, otherwise nothing good would follow me. At the time, it was a frightening thing to hear: years of trying to get over an actual phobia of God, and trying to reeducate myself about a God of love rather than one who watches my every moment to slip up so he can banish me from heaven, made me–and still makes me–sensitive to any allusions to threats like that. Very recently I got into a discussion with a church brother about feminism and some of the things he said ignited those fears and insecurities again and after that discussion, there was nothing I could do but pray. I prayed for God to remove those thoughts from my mind, because that isn’t of Him at all. I knew the brother didn’t actually intend to rouse those thoughts within me, but I’m too heightened to subtle threats and forebodings to not think negatively about myself and to worry and to fear about things I have no need to worry about.

Sometimes, the people who bring us down the most are our own church brethren.

But it’s also important to remember that there is always more than one party in an argument, and that if you felt offended, then it’s likely the other person felt offended also. What more can be done but to pray for insight and to step away from it all? If it’s causing problems, it’s not worth your time. If needs be, don’t talk to that person about that topic again. If it won’t lead anywhere, what is the point?

Life is too hard. You gotta pick which obstacles are really worth fighting for.

When Human Suffering Becomes a Spectator Sport

I wasn’t brought up a Seventh-day Adventist, nor a Christian of any denomination. As I grew up, I gained a yearning for church and at first attended the local Anglican down the road (when I was eight); then a Pentecostal church before my dad and I were invited to an SDA congregation. I knew this was the path for me: it was the only church that had consistent Biblical doctrine and I learnt a lot from it. There were many things I found strange about the church at first: the women didn’t wear jewellery or trousers; no one stood during song service; there weren’t any crosses or ornaments around the sanctuary. Doctrinally, there were many things different–and it was the first time I had joined a millenarian movement.

Of course, as an Adventist I look forward to the Second Coming and all that, but I’ve found that as the years go on, I’m left feeling greatly disappointed with the overall tone of church members regarding the ‘signs of the times’. We all know that the world has gone crazy: war after war; unprecedented murder; child abuse in every dark corner; women getting abused; gangs everywhere, coldness and bitterness and sadness and anger at every turn. But at what point of one’s Spiritual Walk do such phenomena become yet another ‘sign’ to cross-out on a Revelation checklist? In general, whenever something terrible happens in the world to make it into the papers, it’s all the biggest news at church the following week–not because everyone wants to set up a donation pool or a campaign to help, but because everyone’s excited about the Good Lord giving us all signs towards the end. They treat these events as if it’s all part of an action film.

There are people suffering out there. Children are getting killed and maimed in Syria; women in Afghanistan are self-immolating to get away from their abusive lives; Female Genital Mutilation is still a major problem in many countries all over the world; people in the UK–a developed country–are dying in this recent cold snap because they have no money to pay the heating bill, all due to monetary corruption and selfish governments; entire families were wiped out during the Japan earthquake; the earthquake in Haiti and the 2004 Tsunami. And all people can say is ‘these are signs of the times’??

Where is your heart? Has Christ not had any impact on your life that these events don’t cause you to cry out and try to do something to help them?

I’m reminded of a well-known text that pretty much all Sign Watchers recite whenever these things come on the television, as their way of warning their friends (who are totally on their way to H.E.L.L. by the way–shhhh!) just how close Jesus is:

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Matthew 24:12

Have we as a church become so desensitised to human suffering that we no longer have any feelings of compassion towards our fellow humans? Our eyes glued to the televisions screens, verging on voyeuristic as we watch childless mothers wail to the cameras…

Here’s another one that I thought about this week, one that had a whole new meaning for me whilst pondering this subject (which also happens to be the number one text people use to signal the End):

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

–2 Timothy 3:1-5

Such people who spend all their time sensationalising human suffering all for the sake of preparing for the Great Return are certainly only ‘lovers of their own selves’. They’ve completely missed the point of what Christ did whilst he was on this earth. These people are in danger of salivating at all the signs so much that they never get right with God and miss the opportunity to actually make it to Heaven. Being aware of the signs is all well and good, but so long as you don’t get a bad attitude whilst doing it.

I had a long chat with two of my closest friends the other day and we realised just what a sorry state we’re in, as a church.

  • The members of the Salvation Army are known world-wide for aiding the suffering and those in-need.
  • The Red Cross was formed by Christians of other denominations.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are known for their evangelism and missionary work.
  • Pentecostals are known for their fiery conviction; their willingness to pray for anyone and their unwavering belief in the power of prayer.

What are Adventists known for? That we used to be people of the Book.

Sad, sad, sad!

It’s my earnest prayer that I use my life to help others. I don’t witness or door-knock or share my faith because it’s ‘my duty’, but because there are people out their hurting and they need to hear peace and hope and comfort! The majority of the world is sitting on the train tracks with a freight train headed right towards them, and I have the means to divert that train. Even if they reject God, at least I can say that I did all I could for them. We need to have the love for humanity that Christ did, that deep love that allowed him to hang on the Cross whilst being spat and jeered at, knowing all along that he was dying for those exact people.

We can’t treat the world like cardboard pieces, as if other people’s lives mean nothing, and then wonder why they don’t want to come to our church.

‘Feed my sheep’ says the Lord.

Sometimes It Feels Like There’s a Bomb in My Head, Waiting to Explode…

I’ve always been a victim of my own destructive thoughts. I have a habit of day dreaming that I’ve cultivated, fertilized and tended to for years now; I’m pretty much standing in a tangled mesh of roses, thorns and bristles at this point. This all started a few years ago, when I began suffering from psychotic episodes. My concentration was awful; I’d practically sit in class staring at a wall, and only regain consciousness with ten or so minutes of the lesson to spare. It was during this time that I saw just how sinister and self-destructive my thoughts could be. My day dreaming often led to long moments, sometimes hours, of lying in bed with my eyes fixed on the ceiling. And I’d think, and think, about how awful I was, how much I was unloved; that I was ugly; that I should be dead. This usually resulted in physical self harm. One night, I boiled the kettle and poured the water on my arm.

Thankfully, God brought me out of that. But the vestiges of the past haunt me from time to time.

If I’m honest, my levels of lust within my relationship has been hard to cope with. Before I had ever been in a relationship, I naively thought that ‘lust’ wasn’t a huge issue for me; that I could always control myself. Well, now I’ve grown up. It’s been difficult, but I prayed; I set boundaries and curfews; I spent more time studying the Word, got involved with loads of church work to keep me occupied. Those things worked brilliantly, in fact, but every now and then I slip, and end up feeling really awful about myself afterwards…

Today has been a low day. I got home really late last night (fell asleep sometime after 1am), and ended up waking up at half six in the morning, only to find I couldn’t get back to sleep, despite my eyes stinging with fatigue. I rolled over and looked at my university email from my iPod and saw that I received my lowest score of the year so far. That already put me in a bad mood, but coupled with the tiredness, and the spiritual stumble that I took the night before (I broke the curfew) led me to think again. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, becoming more entangled in the thorns; cut and bruised, I emerged in a fit of literal tears. I cried for quite a while and the more I cried the worse I felt. I tried to get rid of this image I’d created of myself in my head, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking, ‘how far are you going to push yourself to the edge before you end up participating in something you’ll really, really regret? What are you really worth? Why are you making yourself so open? Since when were you a prostitute?’

I understand that a lot of the self-blame stems from the cultural belief that a woman needs to exercise more chastity than men, and in the church, a woman who is ‘hard-to-get’ and perches herself on that pedestal, away from all male hands until her wedding night, is a woman truly fit to be given the title of ‘Proverbs 31’. A virtuous woman, indeed. And my boyfriend holds nonof these views. Not even a little bit. I kept reminding myself of this fact, but I chose to listen to the voice that did not have my best interest at heart.

We spoke on the phone in the morning. When we ended the call, I burst into tears again, mainly because he sounded so sorrowful and I thought I’d caused him unnecessary upset. I felt as though I shouldn’t have said anything, but I wanted to be honest.

I’m yet to eat a meal today. I had my shower late; popped to the shops to get some water and household stuff; got back into my nightclothes retreated to my bed, eating chocolate and turning on the laptop to write this post. I felt sorry for myself, but I checked on Facebook before logging onto WordPress, and the statuses I saw almost took my breath away.

I have many Adventist/Christian friends on my Facebook, so I’m used to Bible texts on my Newsfeed, but this afternoon something else happened: all the passages that people were putting up were about sin, and the penalty that Jesus paid in order for us not to feel guilty and dejected and depressed when we do something wrong, but for us to give all our burdens and baggage to Him, at the foot of the Cross. I almost cried again, but for a different reason this time. So many people, so many texts and words of encouragement–I hadn’t told anyone about how I was feeling or what was going through my head, but it was as if the Spirit moved, so that they all wrote texts that corresponded with each other. The text that really stood out to me is taken from 1 John 2:1-2:

My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world…

I was also reminded of the lyrics to a hymn that has been in my head ever since I read the Bible text: Jesus Paid it All:

I hear the Saviour say
“Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness, watch and pray
Find in me thine All in All”

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a Crimson stain
He washed it White as snow

Sometimes, God leaves me lost for words. Despite what has happened today, with my habit of self-destruction reaching such a high level, it’s finally taken a turn for the better…

…Because God has the power to save me from myself.

Understanding God

It dawned on me the other day that I don’t actually know what love is. What does it mean to ‘love’ someone, what do you do when you ‘love’ someone? How would they know that you love them?

A baby latches onto the first source of food and comfort they find. They understand that the fragrant, warm, secure blobby thing above them from which milk is secreted can bring them happiness. A little child knows that this blobby thing is their mother, eventually their father too, and they build a relationship with their parents. They don’t fully realise that the reason why they burst into tears at the school gates, watching the red lights of the family car vanishing far into the distance, is because they love their parents and don’t want to see them go.

Love gets more complicated when you’re older. Suddenly, it’s not just your parents that you love, but your friends. Sometimes teachers, eventually you’ll grow in love with someone who isn’t related to you. All different feelings, manifestations, decisions and contexts, with one word to describe them all.

Love.

A word used too freely. I have members of my extended family that I am not close to; some I’ve only met a couple times. Sometimes I don’t get on well with them at all. But then, I’m expected to say that I ‘love’ them, immediately, on the first meeting. People generally say that they ‘love’ their siblings, but they don’t ‘like’ them. What does this mean? It’s a cliche that people use on the assumption that everyone knows what they’re talking about. Another one is ‘loving someone is not the same as being in love with someone’. Words and adages and riddles; they mean nothing to me.

I spoke to my dad about it yesterday. My dad and I talk a lot about these things. I’ve told him when I’ve fancied someone, or had relationship drama, and vented to him about the odd ways of men and women in the church. I asked him how he knew he had been in love with my mum. He was honest: “it’s indescribable”, he said “but there’s a difference when you love someone as a Christian. It’s no longer ‘I fancy him, I fancy her’; emotions can’t be the main part of it. You learn to love Christ first; you experience His love for you; then you learn to love other people”.

I think it’s the best explanation I’ve heard about ‘love’. It cannot be explained in a few words or actions. It’s a verb and a noun and an adjective; it’s a decision you make–you decide to love someone and stay with them and accept them for their faults and their good sides–and yet it’s a word that rouses emotion: anger, joy, arousal, desire. It can trigger hate; people kill others over their love for someone else; people kill themselves because they love someone else…

Christ killed Himself, didn’t he? He sacrificed himself, lived a life of persecution and completed his task on the cross out of love for people who to this day give him nothing in return. That’s why love is so hard to understand; because to love someone means to make sacrifices.  It means you put yourself on the line: you give up your time, defer your personal happiness to make someone else happy and safe. You compromise and give without expecting anything else in return.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

1 John 4:8

I’ve been praying for God to teach me how to love truly and earnestly; to be willing to make sacrifices and care for people as I should, not just as a Christian, but as someone who has morals. I know from the text above that love comes from God first, and more importantly that ‘love’ is something I’ll never fully understand…

…because to understand ‘love’ is to understand ‘God’.