Going into Hiding

They say the the best way to witness is at home; living with a family that doesn’t share your faith. I know this, but it’s become an almost daily battle. Although my dad is a Christian, I don’t live with him, so the house I live in currently is not a ‘Christian’ one. Additionally, I have four brothers and sisters and a mother–none of them share my faith. It’s overwhelming a lot of the time and frustrating and annoying and all different things. For example, I don’t think any of them read this blog–maybe because of it’s religious focus, or maybe because they’re not interested. I’m not sure.

I’ve discovered a trait in myself that is beginning to scare me, but the more I age, the more it appears. I’ve begun to withdraw into myself: I’ve started retreating away from my family. I stay in my room all day or if not, I’m outside. Out with the boyfriend, out with friends, out at any church event I know of. I suppose I feel more ‘myself’ with people who understand me better and I know I won’t be the ‘odd one out’. Being an Adventist has caused problems between my family and I in the past: about two years ago I was called to choose between my sister and God: she was determined to have her wedding on the Sabbath and demanded that I make a decision. I chose God; I understand the importance of the Sabbath and the dangers of compromising my faith (it only takes the one time before everyone thinks they’re just as important for you to bend your faith like a straw). Since then, I never speak to her about church things. We still talk; the event is over, but the feelings were never resolved. She never trusted the Adventist church and she definitely doesn’t now, so I worry that most things I say to her will confirm some pre-conceived ideas. I don’t know.

That’s just one thing. There are others. I can’t really go to my family for advice, because the way how I would want to respond to it, as a Christian, might not concur with what they think I should do; I also feel strange telling most of them that I’ll pray for their problems, because I know only one of my siblings truly believes in it. When I went to Jamaica, I was the only Adventist there amongst my family. Not only was my vegetarian diet made into something dramatic, but my being a Sabbath keeper and not being able to join in certain activities on the Saturday left a taste of discomfort. I didn’t want to be a burden, I had to watch what I said in case I came across as ‘weird’.

I know that despite all this, I cannot allow myself to drift any further. It’s not Christ-like. As the Christian, I’m supposed to be there, to empathise and to help, not to separate myself as if I’m too holy for them or something. I suppose it’s more painful sometimes when I know there’s a barrier of confusion between us. I truly love my family, but for a long time I’ve felt low and heavy at home, like I’m surrounded by treacle. I don’t know what to do or how to pray about it.

And sometimes, parents don’t help. Since we were both very young, my closest sister and I have had a sibling rivalry: she feels as though I’ve been able to get things that she hasn’t. Sometimes I’ve seen it, other times I think her emotion has allowed her to see illusions rather than real favourtism. Either way, it’s been a point of contention that laid dormant for years. Now I’ve seen a resurfacing of it, and I believe some of that has come from comments one of my parents made: that the reason why I get things is because I’m on a ‘good path’. It surprised me to hear this and I’ve never wanted nor asked for special treatment just because I’m a Christian, but today this sister has bandied about the ‘you’re the golden child’ phrase and it’s left me sadder and lonelier. It’s hard to know what to do at times like these, it really is.

I’ve decided to begin studying the story of Joseph, in depth. The thought came into my mind this morning, following the argument. It seems to contain a lot of the problems I’m currently facing and I’m sure I can learn something from it.

The next post will be happier, I’m sure…

xXx

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.

Facebook Object Lessons

I have suffered from a particular problem as I’ve limped along the cracked path of my spiritual walk for a long time. It’s something that has hindered me from progressing and getting closer to God. I speak of my habit of comparing myself to other Christians. I do this a lot. I’m a self-depreciating person; in most things I do, whether in regards to my writing, or singing or just overall “personality”, I can’t see the good in them. I’m well aware that there are better people than me and a lot of the time I wonder if I’m good enough to even bother pursuing the these things that I enjoy. When it comes to Christianity, where my salvation is at stake, this habit of mine is multiplied. It’s just so easy to look at someone and say “yes, she’s made it. She’ll definitely be in Heaven”, and then look at my life and feel completely wretched.

I didn’t realise how bad I was at this until I went to a prayer and fasting day at the Barnett church with some people from my church a few years ago. My prayer ministries leader gave a testimony and in this testimony she told everyone that every morning at 4 a.m. she gets up and prays for hours. I looked around the room and everyone just seemed to be of one accord, as if they all did similar things at home. I didn’t stay for the rest of the testimony; I went into a back room and started to cry (I was also in a very bad place mentally and such a testimony was the last thing I wanted to hear).

I prayed about this problem and asked others to pray for me as well. Funnily enough, the medium that has assuaged some of my hard feelings has been Facebook. It wasn’t this way at first, but after a nice discussion with two of my friends on Twitter (for shame; I’m on almost every social network), I realised something about Christians, especially young Christians.

I wrote a blog post ages ago about Facebook Preachers, but this was manly in regards to men who use Facebook as a way to draw in Christian women. But now, as I befriend more and more Christians on Facebook, I see this mentality of “preaching” on a wider scale. I’ve started to realise how superficial we all are, how we as Christians wear a mask of piety to show other Christians how well we’re doing. Facebook has become the biggest channel to do such a thing. A person could be listening to Lady Gaga all throughout the week and still post Youtube videos of Give me Jesus, giving everyone the impression that hymns are all they listen to. Shock photos of animal mutilation and corrupt abattoir footage is a way some Adventists “preach” to their church mates whilst simultaneously showing everyone what a great vegan they are and statuses broadcast how many prayers/devotions one gets through in a 24 hour period.

I know people who mainly use their Facebook for religious and witnessing purposes, so it’s understandable if their main output is religious material, but the majority of people don’t do this, yet they will throw religious matter at everyone and claim that it’s for religious purposes, even though all their Facebook friends are in the church anyway.

So who are these activities prepared for? Who are they trying to impress?

I’ve learned to be discerning. It’s actually quite easy to separate the statues/videos/messages that are there for encouragement and those whose sole purpose is to perpetuate an image of Godliness (even if the person responsible is unaware of what their inner motives are. The subconscious is a terrifying thing).  For example, this:

GUYS I’VE JUST HAD AN AMAZING DEVOTION THIS MORNING. 2 HOURS YES! MERCY! THIS DEVOTION TOPS THE ONE I HAD YESTERDAY WHICH WAS ONLY 1 HOUR!!!!!!!!!!

Compared to this:

Wow! In my devotion this morning, I was able to see Proverbs chapter 31 in a whole new light. Have any of you ever considered that this chapter is also speaking about a church? The woman of virtue is also a church that obeys God’s commandments, as we’ve seen that a “woman” in prophecy usually refers to churches. Thoughts?

There’s just a difference. The first one isn’t encouraging at all! What was this fictitious person hoping that others would say to their caps-lock? What more is there for anyone to add or discuss? It may help some people, but to me such things add nothing to my life and I just scroll past them.

I’ve started to understand now, that I really can’t pay too much attention to the outward displays of piety that others project. It’s just too easy to be spiritual online, when no one knows what you’re doing when you log off (or switch windows); I’m beginning to realise now that I’m not the only worrier; I’ve decided to take the above displays of Christendom as a sign of insecurity: the longing to show the truly spiritual ones that they can reserve another seat on the glory train for someone else.

It took my dad years to shake me out of this negative mindset, but it was something as trivial as Facebook that helped me make the first steps towards the door.

When God Just Isn’t Enough

I suppose a little catch-up is in order. Two weeks ago I went to ARME Bible Camp and it was an amazing experience. I hadn’t really prepared mentally or spiritually for it, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, or what I hoped to gain by going. I’m so glad went, despite it being exam season. Not only were the sermons convicting, but I was shown an interesting way to study my Bible. We were given practical tips for having effective morning devotions, how to engage in a spirit-filled Bible study and the Bible itself proved to be a very interesting book. It really strengthened my faith in it; I was able to see that from the very first chapter in Genesis to the last in Revelation, everything written is interconnected and was put there for a purpose.

I know a lot of people went to the camp to hear Ivor Myers, and whilst I found his sermons interesting, it was a sermon by Pastor Phillip Sizemore that got to me…

He told the story of his parents. Neither were Christians but they acted truly Christlike. They helped people, they housed a couple of homeless kids and brought them up as their own. And they disliked Christians with a passion. To them, Christians were bad people and all the Christians they came across were hypocritical. When Pastor Sizemore became a Christian, it disappointed his parents; they were worried he would turn out like “the rest”.

In the end, the hypocrisy of the Christians in their lives had devastating effects. It tore his family apart. It reminded me of my own family, and the impact a pair of hypocritical Christians has had on it.

My mum’s parents, Brother and Sister ‘B’, were well known in the Adventist church. They went to one of the founding churches in London, during the time when people from the Caribbean flocked to England for work. Brother and Sister B seemed like well-to-do Christians at church, but their home was a war zone. Adultery, child abuse and neglect were some of the things that took place in that house, and there was so much hatred that today, none of their children attend church, with two of them identifying as atheist. They gave my mum a distorted view of God, religion and the Adventist church in general. I’ll give you an example. When my older brother died, and my mum went to her parents for counsel, Sister B said to her:

See? This wouldn’t have happened if you had stayed in church.

Despite my own conversion to the Adventist church a few years ago, my sisters have little care for my beliefs, after all, the church didn’t help my mum in anyway, so what good could it do for anyone else?

When Pastor Sizemore spoke about his parents, the pain in his voice was so evident that I couldn’t help but think about just how much work I have to do. My family is dysfunctional, it’s not perfect and it has its problems. I would love it if we could all attend church together, be a spiritual support for one another, have family devotions (it would be nice if my parents could reconcile), but Brother and Sister B, my grandparents, left their mark. They’re both dead now, but I know my mum still hurts from how she was treated as a child. What can I do? How can I be a good enough witness to show her that the church isn’t like that anymore?

I spoke to her about it the other day. She told me that she made the decision that she would never belong to the same organisation as that of her parents. But she also said that maybe one day, before it’s not too late, she would come to the church. She hasn’t ruled it out completely.

And that gives me hope. The Spirit can soften any heart, after all.

xXx

“God Condones Violence”. Does He Now?

This is something that I’ve been meaning to study for such a long time but to be honest I’ve been worried that I won’t find the answer—or that if I do, it won’t be the answer that I want.

The UK is fast going the way of France in that secularism is the flavour of the month. I know people who claim to be atheist but are so concerned with religion it makes me wonder if they are anti-the system or anti-God Himself. Because there is a difference: you can’t hate something if you don’t believe it exists. It’s popular now to just hate God, to mock the Bible and anything resembling religion, not because people are angry at religious intolerance or corrupt clerics (because if they were then they would start a movement or campaign or something, not mock well-to-do people on internet forums) but because everyone else is doing it and at the moment it’s fun.

As this has become a popular standpoint for a lot of people, so-called Voices of Rational Thinking have emerged, skimming over Bible passages, picking out the ones that sound odd and making entire theories and speculations about them. They extrapolate Bible texts and share their “solid” theories with others who will never search for themselves to even check if the passage is in the Bible. This is passed onto others until a warped image of God is established. This is why God gets blamed for all of the world’s ills; why people get angry at God for the Holocaust and not Hitler, or the one from which minds like Hitler’s are created.

Something that I’ve come up against of late is this idea that God condones violence. I’m sure every Christian has heard this:

If God is so loving, why does he condone slavery, rape and genocide in the Old Testament?

As the Christian, what have you said? There are websites dedicated to “exposing the truth” of the Evil Book. Anti-theists have used these texts as a trump card of sorts.

Once upon a time I used to get really angry at it.

Now I feel pity. They don’t actually know God. They know of Him, but they’ve never prayed and asked for an answer. They’ve read the Bible but they’ve never studied it. If I were in their shoes I’d probably be just as angry upon reading these texts, because Christians don’t talk about them.

It was an atheist that brought those passages to my attention. Why hadn’t these texts been explained in church? Why aren’t there any Bible studies on them? We may want to bury our heads in the sand about them but it won’t stop people from demanding of us what they mean. For a lot of people, the Christ they do or don’t see in a Christian can make or break their relationship with Him, so we need to be well versed in the Old Testament, in the passages that make us uncomfortable so we may educate and explain.

Or … I wonder if these passages aren’t explained because people don’t understand them? This baffles me to no end. Whilst I know that there will be some things we just won’t understand about God, He hasn’t hidden anything from us. It’s all in the Bible for us to know about. “Come let us reason together” remember? I’m someone who’s always inquiring about something; I love knowledge and I love finding new things so I find it odd that some people can be in church for 20+ years and never ask about certain things. It’s just … weird.

I know God doesn’t condone violence. I know he abhors rape. I know that the Bible that was used to defend the slave trade was the same Bible that was used by abolitionists to end it. I know that God wasn’t rubbing His hands in glee during Rwanda, Armenia, Darfur. So what do these passages mean?

If there was ever a time for Christians to study their Bible, it’s now.

Women in Ministry

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this topic. I think I’ve spoken a lot about the gender inequality in religion and as the state of the world deteriorates we’ll inevitably get more sexism and chauvinism in church. We know that religion is a hotbed for tradition and with this tradition comes views that are not only ridiculously Functionalist but also dangerous.

For example, people love to blame women for the current state of marriage in the church, because we rebellious women aren’t submitting anymore and we want to be “independent”. Since when was independence a bad thing? Unless everyone’s getting their moral lessons from Destiny’s Child songs then an independent woman shouldn’t be a problem. Like most things, the phrase has been twisted to mean an angry black female who emasculates all the males around her, when it should really mean a woman who can fend for herself. I was listening to the radio once where driving instructors were describing their most difficult students. Several of them mentioned that there was an influx of women in their 60s and 70s learning to drive for the first time; an age where their reflexes are slower and it’s much harder to pick up new skills. Why? Because all their lives they relied on their husbands to drive them everywhere, leaving them without transport once they were widowed.

I was watching a live online Bible study about relationships and the topic of submission came up. Once again, rather than clearly discussing and empathising with the women that had been beaten physically, emotionally and spiritually by their husbands because of a warped interpretation of the word “submit” and their husbands subsequent omission of the command for them to love their wives as Christ loved the church (and gave His life for it), everyone just went into rants about rebellious women. One bright spark actually said:

Are these problems a result of the women’s rights movement going too far?

I beg your pardon? So should we start taking rights away from women, then? Because we’ve been given too much? I wanted to pursue this comment, and maybe if I did I would have been given better clarification, but it was Sabbath and I didn’t want to get into an argument. After all, I’m trying not to be so hot-headed about the issue and I’ve been asking God to hold my tongue on this matter.

Not surprisingly, these views have been used to dictate to women what they can and can’t do in the church. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I think I may make it my mission to find out this month. I’ll do some study on it and write my findings, making sure to seek God for counsel and wisdom throughout : )

There is no denying, though, that God loves women and he has called them into service. The best example I can give for this is in Matthew 28:

 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

(28:1,9,10)

The first evangelists were women. It’s one of the most powerful moments in the New Testament, and such a privilege.

God gives messages to women as well. There’s Ellen White, for example.

I wanted to start studying this topic because I read this blog post earlier, and it made me wonder why there is such confusion surrounding the matter. We’re all supposed to be convicted and influenced by the same Holy Spirit, so why are there so many hurting women in church, left to feel inadequate and excluded? We’re all part of the same body and thus, we’re all needed.

(I just discovered that blog today; it’s nice.)

So it looks like along with my weekly study, not only am I studying the book of Jeremiah but now I’ve got this subject to do as well! You can’t have too much Bible study, I suppose…

xXx

 

I Hate Church.

Something that is said too freely. I speak more about my own utterances than anyone else’s.

At one stage, I did hate church. I had only been a Seventh-Day Adventist for a couple years at this point and I had never experienced a colder place than an Adventist church. From being an Anglican, where all my neighbours attended and chatted about gardens and local business around the tea and biscuit table; to being a Pentecostal where everyone was too passionate to be cold, coming into the church that was supposed to ‘have the light’ really shocked me. I was outwardly different and aware that people thought I was odd. It was only years later, when I had made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, that I was informed that people just didn’t know how to take my eccentricity. They were nervous to approach me.

Since that time, God has worked wonders in my life. I’ve recently passed my practical driving test and I found out today that I passed my French Oral exam (I got a 2:2. Not a fantastic grade, but I’d been anticipating a fail so I’ll take what I’ve been given). But also, I’ve grown as a person. My life is genuinely better. My dad’s life is better. Most people, when they find out how he was before, just can’t believe it. He was never a bad dad, but looking back on our old lives, before both of us became Christians, it’s like meeting two different people.

With that in mind, sometimes I have to ask whether I’m a good witness for God. Sure, I tell  people about God, but what does my life say about it?

Today someone tried to persuade me to leave church, after I’d complained to them about something. This person is very anti-God and I’m not entirely sure if they respect my beliefs (I’m just judging by the mocking company they keep). Now, I’m not someone who believes in painting a Utopian picture of church to luuure in the un-believers. That’s just dishonest and unnecessary. However, if God has truly worked wonders for me, should I complain as much as I do? I believe in only complaining if you plan to do something about it—otherwise, keep shtum! So even though I’m in no way tempted by the offer to leave the church, I can’t really be surprised if people think I am. If I’m going to complain so much, what do I expect?

And what’s hilarious is that I don’t complain as much as I used to. I can only imagine how many atheists/agnostics I bored in the past with my ramblings.

I love God. I hate religion without God, because I agree that it has caused a lot of grief for people and has been used as a tool to control, subjugate and frighten. But these things will happen because we live in a sinful world, with humans whose natural choice is to sin anyway. With that in mind, I can’t entertain anti-God thoughts from others or encourage negative images of Him.

I shouldn’t emanate them, either.

So this week, I’m praying for more positivity. I can’t be a good witness if I’m complaining all the time. God’s done too much for me to behave like that…

Happy Sabbath.

xXx

Street Witnessing

Today I went street witnessing. There is series of flats on Wood Vale, Forest Hill, which makes a good start for doing that sort of thing. It’s close by to me, so it didn’t take long to go. I went with a group of people from my church: three of us youths, two adults (including my dad) and two little ‘uns.

I used to go door-knocking often with my dad back in the day. I hated it. I never knew what to say, and used to just stand there while he did all the work. I know the ice breakers that he’d use when greeting people off by heart: if he had a tract about the Health Message then he’d introduce himself as a quasi-nutritionist; if it was a book about happiness and well-being then he’d ask about their stress levels and overall mental health. At Christmas he’d start off by asking if they’d had a good Christmas, and if they believed in Christ.

We used the latter one today and I interacted with people for the first time. I mean, I actually spoke to strangers and smiled and everything. It wasn’t scary and I didn’t feel stupid; people were fairly receptive to the Word and even if they didn’t believe, they were still polite and accepted our materials. In this case we gave them Steps to Christ by E. G. White. The whole ‘Christmas’ ice-breaker worked wonders.

We’re planning to make a habit of this; try and go every month—or more, depending on our schedules.I’m actually looking forward to it. This certainly was a milestone in my ‘witnessing’ walk, if anything. So I suppose one of the positives a Christian can take from this more-or-less Pagan holiday, is the opportunity to witness for God. People are more friendly during this time.

‘Tis the season, and all that…

xXx

Just a plug for a great group of people…

Check out this group on Youtube. They’re called The PreachingPlace777. They’re just a bunch of ordinary guys from churches all around London, spreading the gospel and sharing sermons and testimonies. The testimonies are the most inspiring; makes you realise how powerful God can be.

Yesterday evening they planned an evangelistic event at Westfields, Shepherd’s Bush. Quite a few of us went there, handing out fliers for the church; singing, preaching and sharing testimonies. It was fun to take part, but it made the whole thing worth it when I came home and heard that a few people had requested Bible studies.

This is the promo video for the event last night, ‘I Will Preach for Jesus’.

Two unbelievable testimonies:

Dean Cullinane

Andrew Fuller

Go on, take a look! You’ll definitely be blessed.