Day 17: The Christian Culture

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

Our hope cannot be in people, or in a church. It has to be in Him alone.

Scriptures of the Day:

Philippians 2:19-21

“19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 12:14-15

“Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.”

Sometimes our hope can be stolen from an unlikely place. Paul is not mincing words in this passage. To say that all the believers except Timothy sought after their own interests is astounding. Of course this is one verse of many and Paul often spoke with great encouragement about the believers he was working with. Perhaps in this season in particular, he did not “feel the love” from the believers surrounding him.

I confess I have wanted to avoid this topic, but it has played such a big role in my healing as well as in my suffering. It is the elephant in the room that we want to avoid, but needs to be discussed in the hope of healing hearts who have been wounded by spiritual abuse or the Christian culture gone awry.

The first time I stepped into a church that was alive with joy and hope and fervent praise it felt like coming home. This is what it was all about – coming together and rejoicing in this new hope we had found. Church has been rather boring growing up – I did not know the LORD and we rarely went to church.

But then God saved me and I went to an amazing church (http://www.gracecov.org/), unlike any I had ever been to. There were exciting times serving in campus ministry, helping to start a church plant and serving on the worship team. Sweet, vibrant times of discipleship, fellowship and growing in the LORD.

When I was persecuted for my new faith, church was a refuge, the believers all surrounded me and it was family. Sometimes you wish you could bottle up the joy you have from one church experience and open it up from time to time when needed.

The church can serve as a great catalyst and cultivator of hope, but it can also serve as a place of great pain.

The pain is worsened by the fact that church is a place where we come for hope – a place where we know we are all accepted by Christ – but not necessarily by other Christians. When a Christian sins, it just hurts worse. It is not expected, but maybe it should be.

When we understand that the church is a place filled with sinful people, we clear up our disillusionment with the church. There is no perfect church and people sometimes can be prideful, selfish, legalistic, used as tools by the enemy.

Sometimes when life crushes our hope, we run to people or to the church as our refuge. This can be a source of inspiration, but it can also be a place of great stress and sorrow.

When my children and I were suffering greatly, we felt isolated and judged at church. The church simply did not know how to handle our situation. At the time it was very painful, but now I understand that they were just ill-equipped. Sometimes people meant well and sometimes they tried to manipulate us. It really messes with your mind when the body of Christ is not very godly. But God.

Jesus brings healing and opens our eyes to realize that our hope cannot be in people, or in a church. It has to be in Him alone. As we walk through life and encounter seasons that threaten to destroy us, we need to be in God’s word foremost and to find like-minded believers who will stand with us. The others who seek to kick us when we are down, or judge us self-righteously – we can forgive them and realize they are misinformed and focused on earthly matters. Sometimes we, too, are small-minded and need grace.

The Holy Spirit can help us to get over our shock from snubbing, gossiping, jealousy, anger and rejection that come from believers. All of us are desperate for the grace of God and need to keep the main thing the main thing – being a beacon of hope to the world that desperately needs Jesus.

The church is not perfect, but the bride of Christ is indeed beautiful. Christ redeemed her and He will complete the work He has begun in her. Letting go of the judgements of man and embracing the acceptance we have in Christ offers a hope that never ends.

Stay where you are planted and help encourage the culture within your church to be one that pleases God. This song by Twila Paris is such a reminder of Who the church is. How Beautiful. Love one another – Christ bled and died for us all.

Lord, help us to keep our hope in You alone. Everything else disappoints, but You never do! Help your church to rise up and be loving and accepting, able to provide the hope You have given so abundantly.

Day 10: Facing Judgement

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

Hope was never meant to come from man, for we were made for another world where hope never fades or disappoints.

Scripture of the Day:

Psalm 25:3

“No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame.”

Distractions from our healing come from familiar places. Wanting to be accepted and feeling ashamed of our troubles only causes further devastation when wagging tongues share our hurt far and wide. Slander and libel only make matters worse. Multiply the devastation many times over for someone who naturally is a people pleaser. What is God’s purpose in this? God’s people know what it is like to be mischaracterized or misjudged.

Proverbs 19:22 says what a person desires is unfailing love, but so often a critical spirit is more plentiful. Just to be accepted for who we are – in all our quirks and individuality – is a deep desire God placed within us.

The longing to be “ok” is aggravated by an inconsistent world where normal doesn’t truly exist. While man still feels the need to compare and judge, God is calling out to our souls with a message of unconditional love and acceptance.

Whether we have suffered a traumatic event or not, our hope takes some bruises along the road of life. Probably one of the most painful aspects of recovering our hope is the people around us who keep us in a place of hopelessness by their judgment. We cannot stand up to judgment when it is not based in reality. The only way to overcome self-judgment and the judgment of others is to lay it down.

How? The Bible says an underserved curse falls right off our shoulder and that we ought not to let another man judge us (Colossians 2:16). The choice is ours. Sometimes we continue to pick it back up, punishing ourselves. If we are not careful, this judgement forms a deep shame within us that brings deep discouragement that seems irreparable.

When my children and I were thrust into our new reality, the one place where we should have felt safe – church – became a painful place. We felt less than, isolated and categorized in a group of “those” people. Sometimes people mean well, but don’t see that they are actually worsening the situation.

When people tread in the place of thinking they know another person’s heart they stand dangerously in a position of self-righteous pride. They cannot walk in another person’s shoes and certainly cannot be their Holy Spirit.

In those times when we feel misunderstood, our hope for acceptance can be laid on the altar and we can pick up Christ’s view of us, instead. Laying down the idol of the opinion of man, we start to see our hope was in the wrong place to begin with.

Reinvented hope does not need what it used to – it’s foundation is in a completely different place and it’s goal has shifted to being all for God’s glory.

Haughty stares and people gossiping behind our back can still bum us out, but now we know where our real hope comes from. Hope was never meant to come from man, for we were made for another world where hope never fades or disappoints.

Lord, thank You for covering our shame and exposing us to Your abiding hope, instead.