Authentic Christianity

I’ll be honest, these past few weeks I have felt like I’ve been walking through the valley. I have been confronted with struggles, heartache, doubt, and fear. It shouldn’t really be a surprise, I mean, life is hard. It’s unpredictable. It’s scary. It changes in an instant and most of the time we’re just swept along with the current and taken for the ride. But as Christians, we should be able to rely on God to take care of us, right?

That’s the Sunday School answer. But what happens when you’ve spent so long just coasting? When you’ve ignored the urges of God to draw close to him? When life has been going well, so you decide that you can handle it all on your own and you don’t need to rely on God?

It’s hard to admit, but that was me. I was coasting, sitting on the fence, being lukewarm. Use whatever metaphor you want, but I was not growing in my relationship with Christ.

And then my coasting came to an abrupt stop.

I won’t go into details, but I was hit head-on by some pretty challenging things in the past few weeks. Things I thought were so secure started to crumble and slip through my fingers. I was scrambling to grab things as they fell, but all the things I had been juggling on my own started hitting the floor.

And finally, I turned to God. I cried, I prayed, I begged God to give me clarity. And man, did I learn so. much.

Number one: We cannot beg God to take heavy weights off of us and then refuse to let go of them. Growing up, I always heard the phrase “leave your burdens at the cross”, and while it seemed like a good lesson, I didn’t really understand it because I hadn’t ever experienced it. But something clicked after begging God to take things away for two weeks and then wondering why he wouldn’t; He would. But I wasn’t letting Him.

Number two (And this ones the big lesson): The way I experience Christianity has changed so much in such a short amount of time. I grew up in a pastor’s home, so I had all the answers. I knew the “right way” to pray and the “right answers” that people wanted to hear. I knew the “right way” to behave in a church and the “right way” to approach problems. But I have come to realize that the “right way” to be a Christian is ridiculous. We are all human beings, created by God, and he made all of us different. God knows us. And that means that God knows when we’re being fake. He can tell when we’re insincere.

I’ve learned that it’s okay to be honest with God. And I mean, painfully, heart-breakingly honest. It’s okay to cry out to him and admit your greatest weaknesses. It’s okay to talk to him and say “I can’t go a second longer God. I am out of hope and my faith is small”. It’s okay! Life is hard, and we’re going to experience those feelings of doubt and despair. And God should not be someone that you hide away from or sugar coat things to. I reached a point where I was saying, “God, I don’t even know what you’re doing, and I don’t know why you’d do it. I don’t understand why these things are happening, and frankly, I don’t like it. I am helpless and lost, and you are the only one who can help me through”. It was at that point that my relationship with God was pushed to the “next level”, because I was allowing myself to be authentic with a God who already knew these things about me.

He knows what frustrates you. He knows what hurts you. He knows your limits. He knows everything about you! He made you!

I don’t want to be a sugarcoated Christian anymore. I don’t want to be unauthentic with my God. Because if my prayers and communication are fake, then so is my relationship, and that is the wrong place to be.

Don’t be afraid to admit your brokenness to God. He’s the only one who can put you back together.

Ministry: More Than Just a Job

While working at Shine.FM this summer, I have also been working as a worship leader at the church that I attend. Growing up, and still now, my dad is a pastor and my mom is a children’s pastor. As a result, I’ve seen a lot of what goes on in church ministry. I also know that for as long as I can remember, my family would go to church Sunday morning, and then come home and my parents would nap on Sunday afternoons.

When I was younger, I was always confused as to how they could be that tired after only a few hours. Now as a 20 year old who works in the church, I realize exactly how exhausting Sunday mornings are. (But exhausting in the best kind of way, of course.)

There is a lot more that goes into a Sunday morning than most people realize, I think. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, guidance, and faith for everything to run smoothly. What makes it even harder, is that the trend today seems to be that if the “aesthetic” or “atmosphere” of the church service doesn’t fit someone’s taste, then they have no problem going somewhere else. Therefore, there’s an added pressure on church staff and pastors to create this kind of service.

I’ve heard and read people saying that there is too much pressure on the church to be trendy and popular, but I understand the conflict that creates because churches want to be welcoming and inviting to others, but it’s difficult when the “guidelines” for that seem to mean that Sunday morning has to be a performance instead of church.

Essentially, I’ve realized how challenging it can be to be in ministry in today’s world. And I think that not many people realize those challenges. My encouragement would be to get involved in the challenge! Support your pastors and ministry leaders. Become invested in your church home, in whatever position they need help. The church is strongest when everyone in the church participates and believes in the mission.

What can you do for your church?

What is home?

When you think of home, what does it look like? Is it your childhood house? A specific town? A room? A person? Home takes a different shape as you go through life. When I was a kid, home was a yellow house with a big backyard in Michigan. Then we moved, and home became a red brick house in Indiana. But now, as a college student, home looks much different. It may sound cheesy, but home is wherever the people I love are. Home is a safe place, a comfort, and a resting place. No house can create that sort of feeling. That is the kind of feeling that can only be created through being surrounded by people you love.

So if that’s what home is, then can you imagine how wonderful Heaven will be? Not only surrounded by people that you love, but forever resting in the arms of our heavenly Father. Surrounded by the purest love that could ever exist, and in the presence of the One who knows exactly what we need. That is what home is.

This world can certainly be good, and we have people that we love, but don’t be fooled. This is not home. This is not where we belong! This is the journey on our way home, on the way back to the Father. Do not lose sight of your true home while building one here. Of course, we are here to invest in and love others, and we should not neglect that. But we can remember that the places we settle into here can never compare to the home that we have in Christ.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.”  Hebrews 13:14-15.

Nobody’s Perfect

When I was little, I remember my mom always telling me, “All I ask is that you do your best. And that you actually do your best.” Those words could be both a comfort and a motivation. The thing that I knew was that, sure, maybe I could fool the people around me into thinking that I was doing my best, but I knew whether it was or not. As a result, if I knew that it wasn’t my best, I really wouldn’t be happy with it.

Fast forward to now, when I’m an almost 20-year-old. I was home this past weekend visiting with my family, and my was telling my mom a story about something I was doing and trying to get just right, and her response was that I was a perfectionist. Was she wrong? No. I am. I will do things over and over and over again until they are just right. I think this is why some homework assignments take longer for me than for others, and my personal writing projects are read by very few. I need things to be the best that they can be in order for me to be truly proud of them.

I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing. My desire for things to be done well has provided me with a good work ethic and a desire to be proud of things that have my name on them. I have been rewarded with good grades and great work opportunities. However, it’s impossible to be perfect.
That is where I start to struggle. This is the point in which I get frustrated. These are the nights that I lose sleep. I can’t be perfect – none of us can. That’s the downfall of being human. And that’s why we can’t do it all on our own.

Yes, I struggle with admitting that I can’t be this superhero who does everything really well and on-time and without flaws. I cannot claim to never sleeping through an alarm or forgetting to turn in a homework assignment. And I definitely can’t claim to having everything organized and having my life together all the time. To the perfectionist in me, this is really hard, because I want people to know that I can do it all. I want to be able to do it all.

But I can’t. I can’t do it all. The problem is that perfection is not achievable because we’re human. And all that pressure that I put on myself, and that many put on themselves, is unrealistic.

Thankfully, I am surrounded by forgiving and understanding people who know that perfection is unobtainable. And most importantly, we serve a God who has never once expected us to be perfect.

Isaiah 40:28-31 says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young man shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

I think we need to be careful. We need to be cautious of whose strength we are relying on. I can be a perfectionist forever, and try endlessly to make everything come together perfectly, but it will not happen in my strength alone. And in the end, we cannot control the day anyway! God is the one who makes every decision, directs every step, and holds the entire universe in his hands. Who am I to try and mold my life on my own?

I am learning to rest in the truth that my power is very, very small compared to the incredible power of my Lord. I am learning to let this information comfort me, and not make me feel weak. Because the truth is, we are weak, and we are imperfect, and we will fail. But we rest in the hands of a God who is not weak, and not imperfect, and will never fail.

Things You Learn While Packing

So, we made it. By “we” I mean those of us who are finishing up this school year. Personally, I am about to finish my sophomore year of college. The end of the year means finals, finding summer jobs, saying goodbye to friends, and worst of all; moving.

Yes, moving is terrible. Taking down decorations, filling boxes, and moving furniture is something that I will avoid as long as possible. So naturally, I’m writing about it.

Here are six things I learned while packing:

  1. Sticky tack is awful. And at the beginning of the year sticky tack seems like such a great idea, but eight months later it does not.

 

  1. My apartment/home/room is always dirtier than I think it is. I think, “I clean pretty regularly”, “I keep up with my chores”, but when I move the couch and finally look under the rug I find three layers of dirt and a tiny suburb of dust bunnies huddled in the corner. Always. Every time.

 

  1. I have so much stuff. I would even say I have too much stuff. And most of it is literally junk that I forgot I had, so I put it in a random closet or drawer and never dealt with. Why do I do this.

 

  1. I don’t need to save so many pieces of candy. It happens, I get candy in the mail, collect it from campus activities, get handed candy from people trying to catch my attention from tables in the cafeteria. And then where does it go? In a bowl. In my apartment. And then forgotten about until it’s melted or hard or gross. Lesson: go on a candy purge every three weeks. It’s very important.

 

  1. I will never feel more powerful than when I successfully fit a million random things into my tiny little toyota corolla. She’s strong, but she is mighty. Like the little engine that could.

 

  1. There are very few things that are as sad as walking into an apartment that is empty of decorations, furniture, and every little thing that made it home. When I first walked into my apartment, the white walls and empty rooms are a blank canvas for everything that is coming. But leaving an apartment with white walls and empty rooms feels a little like erasing everything that was.

My goal, as I move out of sophomore year and into summer and then junior year, is that the end is not an ending. It is not erasing. It is restarting. It is clicking the metaphorical refresh button and letting yourself be open to new opportunities, situations, and people.

As we finish this season, don’t think of it as an end. Think of it as a re-beginning.

Silence.

Silence. How often do we find true silence? How many times a day do we find ourselves sitting in a space so quiet that we can’t even hear the humming of an air conditioner, or the buzz of the electricity in a lamp? For me, that answer is never.

Silence has become an indulgence. Something that we reward ourselves with after we’ve completed all our work, seen everyone we need to see, and finished all the chores around the house. And maybe we don’t even experience silence after that; maybe our reward has become watching television while scrolling through social media.

When I study, I listen to music. If I’m with people, someone is usually talking. When I’m doing chores or getting ready, I pick my favorite playlist on spotify or turn on the TV to provide some background noise. Silence has become bothersome. Silence has become a bad thing.

Last week I visited a small chapel that sits on the back of my college campus, and for the first time in a very long time, I experienced silence. For over an hour, I sat without distractions and was silent; no phone, no homework, no emails buzzing in my pocket. It was in those moments that I realized how loud life truly was…how loud I allowed life to be.

We need silence. We need to sit without distractions and be still. The Bible gives us several verses about this:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).

“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14).

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Psalm 62:5).

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray.” (Job 6:24).

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” (Isaiah 30:15).

Yet today we are fed constant noise. Maybe we like the noise because it distracts us from having to listen. God uses the silence to speak, and perhaps the truth for many is that they don’t want to hear what the Lord is trying to tell them, so they fill their lives with noise instead. This reminds me of another story in the bible:

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” (Jonah 1:1-3).

(If you don’t know that story, Jonah eventually gets swallowed by a fish and then comes to his senses, following God’s directions and doing as God asked. There’s a whole veggietales episode about it.)

Basically the point I’m trying to make is this; silence is a good thing. Silence is peace. Silence is sanity. Silence is listening and obedience. And in this loud and pushy world we live in, silence is necessary.

However, silence is still hard to find. But I encourage you to search for it. Find ten minutes in your day that you can dedicate to silent listening without distractions. Maybe it’s waking up ten minutes earlier, maybe it’s staying up ten minutes later, or maybe it’s substituting ten minutes of your social media time. However you can find it, I encourage you to use it.

Danny Gokey