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.

When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

There’s an odd culture in church, a dangerous attitude where certain members who are perceived as holy become icons amongst their contemporaries. This turns into a ‘hype’ of sorts, and before long the person has acquired celebrity status; they will be found at every church event, their picture is in every album; people from North London to South Manchester know who they are. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; some so popular they have to rotate people, deleting some to add others, because they’ve reached the friend count limit. To be a part of this person’s true friendship circle, you have to be a very special person, and this automatically makes you important, just for being seen as important by the celebrity.

This behaviour is displayed more explicitly among the youth. My friends and I call these celebrities the “A-Listers”. Normally, the A-List is filled with singers and musicians, but there are also preachers on there, their girlfriends; socialites; people from old Adventist families; Bible workers and missionaries, and those who have set up their own ministries which have gained a following. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness, but the sycophants that follow the A-Listers are what worry me. Even if they think they’re being sincere in their attempts to approach this special group, to find role models in church, their actions can be the downfall of others.

I bear no grudges against these popular people, for of course, they didn’t nominate themselves to this position, but even in a place like church a culture of celebrity exists and sometimes, even the most unsociable introverts are thrust into the limelight. But that meekness and humility of character can very easily warp into something ugly when you’re forever followed, praised by others, complimented on your talents, told how amazing you just are as a person; and everything you say is taken so seriously and dwelt upon. It’s almost as if your words become a gospel of their own… And then you start to believe you really are important. You are no longer a vessel surrendering to God to be filled, but you have filled yourself with the compliments of others. Your words are ambrosia: people taste them and receive strength.

It comes to the point when you feel the need to admonish for the sake of admonishing; filled with a zeal given to you by your peers, it is now your duty to show everyone where they’ve gone wrong. You could actually go onto Facebook or Twitter, write something as mundane as “Baa Baa black sheep”, and your followers would believe it has some esoteric meaning; they’ll just assume you’re so deep that they need to decipher the meaning of your sentence. Why is the sheep black? Is that a symbol for sin? Are we the sheep, like in the parable of the lost sheep, instead we’re not lost, we’re saturated in sin, but completely oblivious so we only talk in babble, which is what our sinful words sound like to God…. (???)

You get where I’m going? I’ve seen this attitude. It’s very unattractive for a person to believe that they are so important that everything they say must be from God, even when it truly isn’t. I’ve read some ludicrous statuses on Facebook where I’m literally peering deep into the screen, utterly perplexed, and all I see are commenters praising a statement that is quite spiritually questionable. This person, this A-Lister, has only reached this level of pride because they were thrust onto a golden stage and made into an idol. And because no one has challenged them, they have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, to the point where their very sermons are an abomination, because the words came from a selfish place.

To conclude: there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people you can see are doing well, but it’s always important to know when to give God credit when it’s due. If someone is clearly walking on the right path, it’s because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything they have done within themselves. Once you realise that, you will stop looking to others to start changing your own attitude about things, and start looking to God.

Because these church celebrities are as fragile and as prone to sinful ways as you are.