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)

Intimidating worship…

“I will not dance.”

There was a time in my life when I signed the dotted line. I would not dance. Dancing was a sin. Those of us at Indiana Wesleyan had to promise to refrain from dancing. No matter what. I even recall a night when my roommates and I were dancing around our dorm room to Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailamos,” and our RA came by and made us stop.

Now I live in Africa. Besides singing, dancing is the ultimate form of worship. IMG_20131006_113505

I grew up in a pretty traditional church. Hand clapping was pretty charismatic where I come from. I became a little  more open in worship when I went to a Baptist church in Georgia. I honestly felt pretty wild even closing my eyes during a song or holding out my hands to the Lord. That was nothing.

Worship in Africa is the most intense I’ve experienced. But I have to admit, as someone who has attended pretty conservative churches, it’s quite intimidating.

This evening we had a simply amazing worship service at Heritage House. Towards the end of the service, people were dancing and yelling and worshiping the Lord. I wasn’t feeling it. And because of that, I felt inadequate. I felt like an outsider. I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like the people around me where so much closer to God than I was.

For me, worship is very personal. The slower songs speak to me more than the fast songs, but because I wasn’t jumping around, I felt like maybe something was wrong with me- like maybe I wasn’t as good of a Christian as everyone else. Their worship was so much more celebratory than mine.

“Behind every trial and temptation is a scheme to get us to doubt God’s goodness or our right standing with Him. Who is he that condemns? Not God!”

I found that written in my church notes from a service I attended in August. And it’s so true. The only one who would ever want to make me feel like my form of worship is inadequate is Satan. Not God. God knows my heart, He knows I don’t have to dance or jump to show my love for Him.

IMG_20131006_105813Billy Graham once said, “The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service.” We so often forget that worshiping God doesn’t only mean worshiping Him in song. We worship God whenever we do something unselfishly for Him and to help others.

Don’t let how other people worship intimidate you. We all do things differently in life, and that includes how we worship. Just because you don’t raise your hands or dance during worship doesn’t mean you are any less closer to God, and it certainly doesn’t mean God loves you any less. Worship is between you and God. He knows your heart. He knows my heart. And I’m going to work on not being so intimidated by others that it makes me doubt my allegiance to my God.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…” James 4:8

Fresh Grounded Faith

On the eve of my 32nd birthday in October, I watched my new Cinderella DVD while packing up my apartment to move into my parents’ house. This is clearly not what I imagined I would be doing the night before I turned 32. Although my parents will be in Florida the entire time I’m here, it still hurts to know that even with a graduate degree, I’m not making enough money to buy my own house.

I also suffered some heartbreak- on my actual birthday no less. Wow- happy birthday to me. Heart… broken… in two. Might be better to say it was shattered into a million tiny pieces. It’s been friends and prayer that’s helped me quickly pick those pieces up and put them back together. I still hurt, but I know I’ll be OK.

Still, overall, I can’t complain. Life is pretty good for me compared to most in the world. I have so many things to be thankful for. But when my friend Ronna emailed me that she had an extra ticket to a women’s conference at The Chapel, I knew it was something I needed.

Fresh Grounded Faith” was Friday night and Saturday morning. Almost 1,000 women gathered together to worship and hear from wonderful speakers like Jennifer Rothschild and Lisa Whelchel (A.K.A. Blair from The Facts of Life).

Everything I learned this weekend fit so well with my current situation. While I’m generally a happy person, I tend to look at what others have and think that my life would be so much better if I had what they have. If only I had more money…. if only I had a husband… if only I had a different job… etc. etc. But the truth is, God is enough, and God knows what I need, and He knows when I need it.

The verses that were the theme for the weekend came from Lamentations. We memorized them, and I am going to say them each morning I wake up, each night before I go to bed, and anytime my day is going wrong:

Lamentations 3:22-25 “Because of God’s great love, we are not consumed. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. Therefore I will say to my soul, the Lord is my portion. In Him will I trust.”

“Fresh Grounded Faith” helped remind me that everything happens for a reason, and that everything happens in God’s time, which is the perfect time.

I prayed a lot this weekend. I prayed specifically for a few people who don’t feel they even deserve my prayers, but they got them anyway. There are some people I will always pray for, even if I don’t know how things turn out. I trust that God will take care of things… in my life, and in theirs.