Strength and hope: not found in Michael

2496cd262b1d857060d03844ebc7d599--cassette-singers“I wanna start a party up in heaven,” I sang along with my cassette tape. The cliche 90’s beats and synthesizer sound filled my headphones. And I loved it.

I was in fifth grade, and my parents had just returned home from a long weekend at Praise Gathering with more than 10,000 other people in Indianapolis. It was a weekend full of concerts from Christian music’s greatest artists and was hosted by Bill and Gloria Gaither, two of Christian music’s elite.

My mom always returned with gifts, and this particular year, one of them was an autographed Michael English cassette tape. I was an instant fan.

Michael, whose song “In Christ Alone,” (not to be confused with the modern praise song by the same title), was an anthem for Christians across the globe, became my favorite Christian singer. I loved the lyrics from “In Christ Alone” that were, “My source of strength, my source of hope, is Christ alone.”

But it became clear, not just in 1994, but many times after, that often my source of strength and hope wasn’t in Christ alone. It was in people like Michael English.

Just two weeks after winning the biggest awards in Christian music at the Dove Awards, Michael English announced that he was leaving Christian music. He was a married man who not only had an affair with another Christian music artist, but he also got her pregnant.

My world exploded. How was that possible? How in the world could my favorite Christian artist do something like that? He had an obligation to all of his fans to be pure and godly! I almost felt personally victimized. I felt like his songs no longer held meaning. They were a waste.

A few weeks ago, I saw a Christian man and recovering addict post a photo of him and his girlfriend with a caption that read, in part, “I am so grateful for the hope you have given me!”

My stomach dropped. When I hear statements like that, I’m always brought back to Michael English. To Amy Grant. To Jim Baker. To more recently, Bill Hybels. I’m reminded of some people I personally looked up to in churches I’ve attended.

Our source of strength and hope CANNOT be in any human, because humans sin. Humans fail. Humans make mistakes. If you find all of your strength and hope in a person, you WILL be disappointed. They will let you down.

It’s ironic that the words in Michael English’s song so perfectly sum up how we’re supposed to live: “My source of strength, my source of hope, is Christ alone.”

Don’t put your hope in people. You can love people, they may even give you hope, but they cannot be your SOURCE of hope. That can only come from Christ.

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”
Luke 4:8 (NIV)

Cookie-cutter Christians: Why some of us MUST be different

“I’m not like them.”

It’s a common thought I have around big groups of Christian people with a certain personality.

They raise their hands high and say, “Thank you Jesus!” throughout prayer and worship. I partially lift my hands, close my eyes, and silently shed a few tears as I feel the Holy Spirit.

It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!
It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!

They quote scripture and often pull it into their prayers when praying in front of everyone. I talk to God like He’s my friend, and I suppose I don’t quote scripture to Him because He already knows it.

After my thoughts of, “I’m not like them,” come the thoughts of, “So I must not be as good of a Christian.”

It’s a struggle I’ve had since college. And it’s a false struggle. It’s one that Satan loves to tell me over and over again: “You’re not like them, so you aren’t worthy.”

It hit me recently how incredibly terrible those thoughts are. I know better. I know that God loves me just as much as He loves them, and I know that I don’t have to be like them to be a good person.

But then a seriously disturbing thought hit me like a hurricane: what if some of my students feel the same way? What if I have students who look at some of the “super spiritual” students and staff at school and think, “I’m not like that. I’ll never be like that. So why bother?”

Some conversations with my students this year revealed that some of them have felt that way before.

I knew I needed to say something. God told me I needed to say something. Yes, even though I’m not walking around quoting scripture and raising my hands in worship, I do talk to God. A lot. He gets me. And He knew it had to be said. So on Friday I said it.

The main class I needed to say these things to were my seniors. They’re an interesting bunch. Yes, I teach at a Christian school here in Uganda, but not all of our students are Christian. Many are simply “Christian” only because they’ve been forced to be. There are two boys who don’t even believe in God and have serious issues with Christianity and Christians in general, there is a Hindu girl, some who have a strong faith in God but are not charismatic like a lot of their peers at school, and a few who are.

When I finished sharing, they clapped. That’s a huge thing for this group of ten 12th graders. Their enthusiasm is typically non-existent. But then one of my seniors, who detests most Christians, said, “I just got more from what you said than anything I’ve heard in chapel all year.”

Part of me didn’t want to post that. I don’t want to hurt our chaplain or anyone else who has spoken in chapel. They’ve put their heart and soul into presenting for these kids. However, the fact that he said that completely drives home the point I made to my students: the point they so eagerly accepted and understood.

My overall point was this: Christians are not all the same. We’re not supposed to be.

It’s tough. If the Christians you’re surrounded by all act the same way and that’s just not your personality, it can be discouraging. And from the discussions we had yesterday in class, I discovered that it can be especially discouraging for teens. They think, “I’ll never be like that. That’s just not me to do that or say that.”

And so the next types of thoughts are, “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” Their overly hyped-up Christian classmates also inadvertently make them feel inadequate. They attribute the problem to their “level” of Christianity, when in reality it’s more of a personality difference.

I’m not saying anyone needs to “tone it down” or anything- not students or staff. But the kids who aren’t like that need to know that it’s OK. You can still have an awesome relationship with Christ without being so eccentric.

I also shared with the students the number one way that I’ve shared Christ with people: love. Simply put, love. Love people. Forgive people. Show grace towards people. Have mercy and compassion for people. Love. Love. Love.

I’ve never had someone say to me, “Natalie, thank you for telling me that I need Jesus. It’s made me want to be a Christian.” But I have had people say, “Thank you for loving me and for loving others as unconditionally as possible. I know this is because you’re a Christian, and that helped lead me to Christ.”

 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

We’re different. God wanted us to be different. While Christian organizations tend to be flooded with similar personality types, sometimes you need a misfit like myself who can reach out to the people who are different.

Do your thing. Be the person God created you to be. Be a Christian and be YOU. Don’t change your personality to match those of people who appear to be “better.” God loves us all the same!

“I’m not like them” is a legit statement to make about how I feel when I compare myself to most of my co-workers. Thank God for that. If I was exactly like them, I wouldn’t have reached some of the students God used me to reach yesterday. The same goes for them- God has used those people to reach many students this year as well! God uses ALL of us.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Part of it says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

I choose to reach people through love and compassion. What works for you? What do you do that brings people to Christ? As long as it does the job, well done! Use your God-given gifts to be a light for Him. And remember, just because you’re not exactly like the Christians around you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t as spiritual or important in the body of Christ. Do your thing. All that matters is what God thinks of you. And He thinks you’re awesome enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

A friend of mine, who also does some mission work, said something the other day that I could totally identify with. Someone had emailed her and said, “You’re such an inspiration! I wish all young women were like you.” My friend said to me, “It was nice, but sometimes I don’t know what to say to that. I wish people knew how imperfect I actually am.”

I know how she feels. And there’s a message that needs to be spread – NO Christian, no matter how many good things they do or say, is without sin. Myself included. DEFINITELY myself included.

My pastor is doing a series right now called Jesus + Nothing = Everything. You need Jesus. That’s it.

No really. That’s it. It’s not Jesus + mission trips = everything. It’s not Jesus + volunteering = everything. It’s not even Jesus + church = everything. Jesus is enough. Jesus, plus nothing else, equals all you need. It equals everything.

God loves all His children the same. I never ever want to give the impression crossthat I do mission trips, go to church, read the Bible, hang crosses on my walls, etc. etc. . because I’m seeking out a higher level of love from God. It’s not possible. He couldn’t love me any more than He already does.

He didn’t love me more after I went to Niger in 2009.

He doesn’t love me more now than before I went to Nicaragua in 2011.

When I go to Zambia in June, He won’t love me any more than He does at this very moment.

So why do I do it? I do it because God has given me the heart and the desire to do so. I don’t get an extra car in heaven because I’ve done international mission work. What I get is the satisfaction of serving my King, I do it because I WANT to do it. Not because I feel like I HAVE to do it in order for God to approve of me.

JESUS + NOTHING = EVERYTHING.

You don’t have to add anything to Jesus to make Him real or to make Him love you. You have everything you need, just by having Jesus. That’s all He requires- is that you believe and accept Him into your heart.