Tag Archives: church

The Lost Art of Being Real

Back in the day, “Keeping it real” was a popular phrase used in hip-hop culture. It was about being genuine to who you are and The Lost Art of Being Realwhere you’re from. Keeping it real wasn’t always the best etiquette and tact at times, but it beat the dreaded alternative: being phony.

Unfortunately, it seems keeping it real is a thing of the past in today’s society, largely due to virtual profiles we create via social media.

With the hundreds, if not thousands, of social media networks out there, we dive deeper and deeper into creating profiles, posts, and fake images of ourselves. It’s not that what we post for public consumption isn’t true, it’s just incomplete.

I was conversing with a friend recently about how Facebook posts present false images. People only post the best things about their lives: cool vacations, new outfits, new cars, cute kids, and delicious-looking meals. They leave out the photos and statuses of when they are sitting at home alone, can no longer fit into those jeans, when the car breaks down, when the kids are driving them crazy, and when they burned the meatloaf.

The truth is, the latter happens more than we let on. And that’s just reality. But we don’t keep it real anymore. We want our lives perceived as perfect.

This causes a few problems, but primarily it tickles our tendency to compare ourselves with others. We look at the selfies, vacation photos, and plates full of food and think we’re missing something in life. We think our lives are not as great as those on our friends list. But as Pastor Steven Furtick once said, we should never “compare our behind the scenes footage to other people’s highlight reels.”

Essentially, we tend to compare those perfect things people post to the most imperfect things in our lives. The things that most people wouldn’t dare to post, but we are all experience.

Debt.

Family conflict.

Marriage problems.

Work stress.

Health issues.

Loneliness.

Insecurity.

Nobody’s posting an Instagram photo of that rash on their leg. Nobody’s taking a selfie when their hair is jacked up. Nobody’s tweeting when their spouse won’t sleep in the bed with them.Lost Art of Keeping it real

Now, I’m not saying that we should publish all the negative, private, and frustrating things about our lives (because honestly, some of us need to chill on sharing all our drama with the world). I just believe we shouldn’t be focused on creating a flawless public image of ourselves.

The reality is, we have plenty of issues. And when we’re brave enough to open up and admit it, we realize others are experiencing the same problems and have the same imperfections.

The most tragic thing is that practice of putting only the best image forward plays out not just virtually, but in public, particularly in the place where people should be most free to keep it real – the church.

Unfortunately, in the place we need refuge and should be able to openly share our weaknesses, we find ourselves being more fake than ever. God forbid someone in our congregation finds out we struggle with self-confidence, fear, lust, doubt, insecurity, pride, etc. It’s not like 99% of the people, including the pastors, aren’t dealing with or haven’t dealt with the same issues. And that’s just my personal list of issues. I’m sure you could add your own.

It’s time for a reality check. What type of image are you portraying? Is it authentic, or are you just trying to make your life look awesome to others? The whole you is much more beautiful and much more admirable than just the “best” you. Let’s go back to keeping it real.

 

“Authenticity is a collection of choices we make every day. It’s the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown

 

 

 

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You Have All You Need

The older I get, the more I understand the importance of relationships and the more I learn to appreciate them. Plain and simple: we need each other.

It seems like an obvious concept, but putting it into practice isn’t friendshipeasy because we often take people for granted. We take the time we have with people for granted. We take the bonds we have – whether in marriage, family, friendship, church fellowship, or work – for granted. I don’t believe it’s because we’re horrible people who don’t give a damn about others. It’s because we are constantly drawn away from community in our culture.

Every day we are bombarded with marketing messages that push us toward self-gratification and indulgence. We’re told that you deserve this or that. Or this is how you get ahead (everything is a competition it seems). Or your life will be miserable and incomplete unless you get this car, this smartphone, or try this diet.

It’s easy to get caught up in the mind-set that we need things to satisfy us. We feel if we just get the promotion…if we just get into that university…if we just get that home…or if we can move to that city…if we just get a different job, then life will be great. We are driven and programmed to think that way because we are constantly lied to, both by the media and Satan, that we are not happy. That we don’t have enough.

The truth is we have everything we need. I saw a Facebook post from Joel Osteen the other day that spoke to this:

“Psalm 34 says, ‘Those who trust in the Lord will never lack any good thing.’ This means if you don’t have it right now, you don’t need it right now. Our attitude should be: ‘I’m equipped, empowered and anointed for this moment. I am not lacking, shortchanged or inadequate. I have what I need for today.'”

Obviously the Word is quite different from the messages we hear and see each day.

So what does this have to do with relationships? I believe how God equips us for each moment, season, and challenge in life is with each other. We are the answer to each other’s’ prayers. While the culture and media push us toward things, God pushes us toward each other.

I think of Jesus’ life. Obviously He wasn’t caught up in things, but He was obsessed with people. He always was teaching, eating, conversing, walking, and talking with people. Even when He isolated Himself, it was to spend intimate prayer time with His Father.

We are made for community. A couple of weeks ago, I spent quality time with friends on a retreat. It was so refreshing – yes, to get away from my regular routine – but mainly because of the people I was with.

Time with friends and family is golden.

As seasons in our lives end – whether we move to a new city, change jobs, graduate college, or get to the end of life – we don’t miss the car we drove, the house we lived in, the place we worked, or the area we lived so much. We miss the people we experienced life with. We miss the bonds we had.

So while you may feel you’re lacking in an area of life – whether it’s because you’re single, unemployed, unhappily employed, or just experiencing general discontent – I challenge to look around you, not at things but at the people in your life. Even if your true friends are few, you have all you need for this moment in life. Enjoy it. Enjoy them.

 

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Have We Created an Elitist Faith?

Earlier this year, I attended a Buddhist wedding ceremony my first time attending a non-Christian wedding. It wasn’t much different from any other wedding I attended because, ultimately, a wedding is a wedding.

courtesy of compfight
courtesy of compfight

Toward the end of the reception, the bride was sharing her heart with the attendants, thanking everyone for coming and partly sharing why she became Buddhist. She said she grew up Christian like most people in her native country. She shared a story of when she first moved to America, she attended an all-day event with her daughter. They were both hungry and a Muslim family shared some food with them. She said years later, when she was recently divorced and moved to a new neighborhood with her children, Hindu neighbors would mow her lawn for her. These interactions with people of different cultures and religions opened her eyes to the good in people of other faiths and led her to explore other religions.

A recent study from MIT found that the percentage of Americans with no religious preference has risen 18 percent in the last 20 years. The study attributed at least 20 percent of that drop-off in religious affiliation to the rise of the internet because it “allows more personal interaction with people of other religions.”

Though the study included all religions, I think a large portion of those losing their faith were Christians.

The MIT study and the bride’s comments at the wedding have me thinking: Have we created a form of Christianity that is afraid of other religions? Have we, through the pulpit, ministries, or the Christian culture created an elitist mind-set that believes no one outside of Christ could possibly be good? Have we set up our children for culture shock when they interact with people of other faiths or face intellectual challenges in classrooms? Have we developed a simple-minded worldview within Christendom that views everyone outside of the faith as evil?

In a way, it’s hard not to develop an elitist ideology in Christianity. The Word of God says Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way to salvation, and every other option is false. No gray area there. While that doctrine is sound, without balance and proper emphasis in other areas, the church can raise children and parishioners with a disdain and phobia of people of other faiths.

There are two major, false beliefs created when we do that:

1. We create a belief that atheists, agnostics or people of other religions are our enemies, when in truth, people are not our enemies, but rather ideologies, false doctrines, the system of the world, and Satan.

2. The belief that only Christians can be good, and “good” is usually measured by good works. I know plenty of people outside the faith who are “better people” than many Christians and do way more good works. While good works are essential to Christianity, they aren’t exclusive to it. Furthermore, we must be careful to remember that our hope and our righteousness is not in our good deeds, but in the work of Jesus Christ alone.

Though these problems aren’t pervasive in Christianity, they are contributing factors to the problem of millennials leaving the church, and will continue to be a problem for youth in church today.

So how do we resolve this issue? By developing believers properly by focusing on love. Love doesn’t sit in church and memorize doctrine, it engages individuals and culture. It’s exactly how Jesus lived and taught His disciples.

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew she was of another faith and it was culturally unacceptable for Him to speak with her, but He engaged in communication anyway. With confidence, faith, and openness, He spoke with her and listened to her. When she made assumptions about Him because of His faith “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim the place we must worship is in Jerusalem” He explained the truth “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:19-21).

Jesus’ way of faith didn’t shy away from those outside nor did He see them as enemies; He embraced them, interacted with them, and conversed with them. Jesus understood other people’s beliefs, listened to their stories, and brought the truth in a way that was welcoming, inviting, and revealing.

Maybe the larger issue of the exodus from the faith is what we’re emphasizing. Are we more focused on teaching a set of beliefs and practices than helping people develop a personal connection with the person of God and allowing that relationship to grow in its own unique way (through trials, questions, struggles, and personal encounters)? The Christian bureaucracy will lead us to believe that the greatest challenge to the faith is political ideologies, postmodern thought, and moral decline. But I happen to believe nothing outside the church is strong enough to hurt it (after all, Jesus said even the gates of Hell can’t overcome it). Only those within can hinder its progression.

I believe Christianity is credible and strong enough to stand up against questions and encounters with other kind-hearted people of other faiths (or of no faith). Our job as individuals and the church raising up young people in today’s culture is to make sure we are grounded not in an elitist set of beliefs, but rather in love. Love isn’t afraid of other beliefs, nor does it isolate itself from them; it engages every individual, sees the best in others, and endures. God is love and love never fails

 

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Stop Chasing Perfection

Perfection doesn’t exist. Not this side of Heaven. Most of us know that, but our expectations often belie that truth.

We know nobody and nothing is perfect, yet we are quick to complain about all the imperfections in the person we’re dating, the church we attend, or the job that pays our bills.Stop Chasing Perfection

High expectations are a good thing. Having a vision for the type of marriage you want, the church you serve in, and the career you navigate is important and admirable. And I believe the vision you imagine can become a reality as long as it’s grounded in reality. There must be some compromise and tweaking to the vision along the way.

Most people understand this. Where we go astray is when our focus shifts. Instead of remembering everything in life is a process, we get impatient with the immediate. So we focus on our partner’s imperfections, our church’s problems, and our employer’s negative practices. We magnify the few things that tick us off, letting those idiosyncrasies overshadow what we enjoy about our current state of life.

Consequently, we become complainers part of the unfortunate majority miserable in our relationships and jobs, and tuned out in church. Sometimes discontent means it’s time to move on. But most of the time the discontent comes from within, not without.

Changing jobs, churches, or dating someone else won’t change things when the problem is within you. The problem is often perspective. And perspective is tainted when problems arise: when there’s tension in your relationship, when there’s disagreement in church, and when there’s frustration at work. These aren’t signs to bail out; these are signs to dig in, roll up your sleeves and get to work. The life you want takes work. The vision you have won’t manifest without pressure.

So when things in life particularly pertaining to your relationships, church, and job become frustrating, shift your focus from the negative to the positive. Intentionally dwell on the good things about your situation. This fosters peace, patience, and problem-solving ability. If the negatives outweigh the positives, then maybe it’s time to move on. But chances are you’ll realize that though life isn’t perfect, it is good, and with patience you can build something close to perfect.

 

 

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Christianity Needs a Facelift

By Kevin Howell

photo by Shandi lee via compfight creative commons
photo by Shandi lee via compfight creative commons

I was talking with a friend recently about the problems within the Evangelical church. Well, less so the problems, but rather the public perception of the church in America. I wondered if it is even possible to change the perception — that Christians are exclusive, closed-minded, homophobic, self-righteous, judgmental, right-wing Republicans.

Too much damage has been done. Too many talking heads have spewed what we’re against rather than expressing what we’re truly about…or at least should be about. There’s been more debate than dialogue when it comes to engaging nonbelievers, particularly in public forums.

Most Christians understand this. However, what the world sees isn’t the practical, reasonable, appealing aspect of the faith; it sees the negative.

If there’s any hope of the perception being changed, we have to make efforts to change it. At the core, the church doesn’t have to change what it’s doing. For the most part, Christians are doing great work changing lives, helping the poor, serving their community, and giving to great causes throughout the world. The problem is, the majority of America sees a politician framing his/her inflaming ideology within a Christian context instead of the missionaries who are helping victims in the Philippines or believers helping fatherless children in the inner city.

It’s not that we need to compromise our beliefs and the Word to change perception. Nor do we have to go on a public relations campaign to promote the more amiable aspects of Christianity. We simply do what we have been called to do: We engage. Not the church institution or your church group engaging with the community and culture, but you, as an individual, engaging with the world, the people around you. The greatest way to change the perception of a group of people is to get know someone from that group.

We all were created to connect. It’s human nature. We’re less drawn to ideologies and institutions and more drawn to individuals. Think about, if you like your neighborhood, your job, your church, you local coffee shop, it probably has a lot to do with the people there. You feel like you belong. You feel like you can relate to them.

Why did people flock to Jesus? Yeah, His teaching was dope, but He was also likable. Way more likable than the Pharisees. It wasn’t about His personality necessarily, but His character, His heart, and His compassion. People connected with Him.

There are people who connect with you. You don’t have to be charming or outgoing. There are people who just vibe with you. And you can be representative of what a Christian is to them. You can communicate without arguing. Disagree without condemning. Discuss without being disrespectful. And most of all, you can listen.

People don’t trust institutions, they trust friends. It takes time to like an institution, but it takes just one conversation to like a person. You can change the perception of Christianity, one friendship at a time.

Are you in?

 

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