“Time” marches on for everyone. Time. We are all on a pathway that leads to the end of time for this life. When I was younger, like many, I never gave it a moment’s thought. So where am I headed now in what will probably be the last 20 years of my life (give or take)? I have lived 62 years and am not a person who is in any major or even minor ministry in a church family. I'm not a part of the respected “mature women's” group giving out advice to the younger women. I have a feeling I was just a bit too unconventional to be considered for the role of a women's “Christian mentor.” They say everyone has “gifts,” but I find a lot of what is being shared these days about church families helping people find their place in the church ringing a bit hollow. For me it consisted of only filling out surveys to identify your spiritual gifts, and then sadly ending the conversation after the results were read. This happened several times over the years.
I have had to walk a very singular and independent spiritual walk over the years. I have had to stand on my own around people who were interested more in socializing than deep spiritual conversation. My church incorporated a monthly “course” that gave opportunity for people to have a deeper spiritual experience with God. I attended, looking forward to the conversation and gleaming some nuggets for myself, only to find many struggling with the idea and they didn't seem to be getting out of it what the author intended. I found it sad, and frustrating and eventually I stopped attending. Whether right or wrong, I did not return for the last two meetings. I still suffer the odd pang of guilt from that choice.
So what does a 62 year old women do when her gifts have not been made use of by church family and she now fills a seat in each service taking care of her own spirituality? Well, I asked God that question and I can only share what I feel He has brought to mind.
I was reminded that I had a very deep and spiritually satisfying upbringing at the age of 20 and for the following 8 years. This spiritual foundation was set so solid that no challenge has ever rocked it. I was reminded that few Christians have been so blessed. I felt the Lord say that I have had input into many people's lives where they could not find the answer within their church family, without always being aware of it. I have been blessed when the Lord chose me to express His heart by helping to lead others to salvation in Him. These have been awesome experiences as they then joined a church family, returned to, or changed churches to continue their own spiritual journey.
So after some thought, I had to admit I was looking for affirmation from my somewhat distant church family instead of turning to the only one who sees me inside and out - God. So if you find—like myself—your journey with the Lord has not resulted in you being surrounded with deep spiritual friendships found in your church family, you are not alone. Even Jesus wasn't well understood by most. Please, I am not saying I walk like Jesus Himself, just saying that he empathizes with my life experiences.
So take heart. Keep true to the person God has made you. God made you the way you are for a reason, the best thing you can do is figure out what that reason is. Do not conform, not just to this world but to any social images and parts people play in church. As Christian we can be focused on having to live in this world while striving to be separate from world. Part of that is not participating in what we believe is ungodly behaviour or having wrong priorities. But just because something happens within the church, doesn’t make it right, and just because something happens outside the church doesn’t make it wrong. Behaviours can be “normalized” and go unquestioned.
We have developed our own “culture” and I slowly realized I could no longer participate in some of it. It just felt too uncomfortable. Seek God and His will in Scripture, let Him fill your heart and let your actions come out of that. When He becomes your deepest friend that words cannot describe, you’re freed to be authentic, meaning everything God intended you to be. Sounds “cliche”, but that person God wants you to be, may come as a complete surprise even to you. No one would guess at 62 years of age that I am an older married Baptist woman. Why? Because my conversation, some of my outward dress and personal spiritual life are not typically “Baptist”.
Most Christians I have met over the years in various denominations have spent most of the available time they have for church, in organized activities or attending potlucks in homes or church. I have a lot of difficulties with this. I am not comfortable getting together for mainly food and then a brief Bible study after. I am not sure what purpose this serves and it is certainly not reaching the lost as new unbelievers rarely, in my experiences, have shown up. I have enough teaching to carry me through till the Lord takes me home. I fellowship with non-Christians most and mentor a new Christian in my home because she feels uncomfortable in a church setting because of very severe negative experiences. We fellowship in restaurants, parks, pubs and shortly will be with her and her non-Christian partner playing cards some evenings where they will drink their beer, he will smoke and my husband and I will probably have wine or a cocktail only because we are not beer enthusiasts. I get together with other Christians weekly with her so she has a sense of family but nothing sanctioned by our Church. Do I go out with Christian friends just for fun? Absolutely! It is re-energizing, stress relieving and a very spiritually healthy thing to do. I find during those times some of the most important things in our lives are shared and I end up taking home lots of laughter as well as some meaningful and challenging thoughts. Wonderful times. Would I attend Bible study like meeting? Yes, if people had studied ahead of time and shared what the Lord had shown them. People sharing their lives this way has been an incredibly enriching experience for me. Can all believers do this? Absolutely. We all have the same Holy Spirit leading and teaching us. Just read Paul’s admonishment in Hebrews 5:12.
I am not a card carrying “member” of a church although I have a church family and feel very much a part of it. It is enough for me that I am a member of the body of Christ. I have found most “denominations” find my type of commitment inadequate. Our commitment often goes unrecognized because we are labelled as those who lack the required commitment.
There is a joy and freedom in being who God made you, which for me meant living and thinking outside the conventional Christian framework and yet still recognizing these brothers and sisters in Christ are all still my personal Christian family in the larger context of us all being a member in the body of Christ. I now understand this is to be the place where I am supposed to live, even within a denomination. And despite pressures around me saying, “conform” in order to be fully accepted into a particular church , I have had a modicum of success of being the person I believe God wants me to be for Him and for all those He loves. Hopefully, I can continue to grow in my walk with the Lord and be faithful to path He has put me on.
So be courageous and bring into the light, those no one else sees, who happen to be unique in their own way, and like yourself are an integral part of the family of God. These have just been some reflections from an ‘older person’ who has decided her life has less regrets than what she originally thought.
Janice has been married to a now retired high school teacher for 42 years. She is a mother of 3 girls and grandmother of 3 girls and a boy. After completing a BA in Child Psychology she decided to stay home when her own children arrived, home school for the formative years and run a child daycare in her home. Over the next 32 years, she has had the pleasure of helping to raise over 70 children in her home. She is still doing daycare at present but only part-time as she "tries" to move into retirement. Having been a Christian since the age of 10, she has had a passionate love of God and has experienced Him and His family in a variety of church settings that have been wonderfully unique and challenging.
In the American South, children are taught to address their elders as ma’am or sir. It can sound endearing to my more casual northern ears, but there is a special term for this type of appellation. It’s called an honorific, and it can make or break relationships in some cultures. In Japan or Korea, two individuals need to know their relative age and social status so they can use the correct language when talking to each other, particularly in the context of commerce. Anyone trying to do international business will hopefully get a cultural crash course in such things as how low to bow, whether to bow or shake hands at all, what kinds of gifts might be expected upon meeting, and the proper titles that should be used to address someone.
Where I live, people tend to default to Mr. or Sir, or if they’re in a shop or restaurant; “Boss.” I had an experience while traveling recently where the owner of the bed and breakfast I was staying at asked me to call him “coach” instead of “boss.” It turned out he’s a dive instructor, and led our group out snorkeling. It created a sense of respect—or even trust—on the excursion, because in my mind I was already thinking of him as the coach.
On that same trip, our group ate at this hole-in-the-wall type restaurant run by a lone elderly man who took great pride in the 10-course feast he cooked up for us. In chatting with him later, he asked us to call him “cousin” instead of boss. It seemed fitting, as the experience really did feel more like a family meal than a quick service transaction.
Another jewelry vendor I chatted with turned out to be a mother tongue instructor at the local elementary school. Suddenly it was not a transactional relationship anymore, but we could converse as educator to educator about things of interest to us both. I thought of each of these people I met briefly on my trip cultural informants, but their stories stayed with me because I did have a name (or title) to pair with that experience or conversation.
While these “island life” stories might serve to highlight some fun experiences, the deeper truth they reveal is something I’d like to explore. The names we choose to use when talking about others, or even just in our own minds, significantly alter how we approach our relationship to them. In the Bible, there are so many names for God, each revealing different aspects of God’s character. A quick Google search reveals such results as “72 names of God in Hebrew,” “900+ names and titles of God,” and “Seven names of God which are so holy they cannot be erased once written down.” Thinking on these names is a helpful spiritual practice at different times, but even the word God can mean very different things to different people.
Stepping outside of Christianity for a minute, we might hear people referring to the universe, or the forces of good, or someone up there. But what does God ask us to call him? His answer sounds surprisingly similar to these things. The first story that comes to mind is Moses and the burning bush. When faced with this consuming fire, Moses wanted to know whom he should tell the people he’d heard from. Maybe he was hoping for something like “The Destroyer” or “The Breaker of Chains” (after all, this was the God of a slave nation). Maybe he was expecting it to be the God of the sun, moon or stars, since he’d grown up in Egypt where such things were worshipped as deities. Instead the answer is, simply “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). But the words and context are loaded with meaning that is anything but simple. The very source of existence is not impersonal after all, but cares about the plight of the oppressed. God is a relational God, and in this passage reminds the people of his promises to the forefathers of the nation. This God is a God who does not forget.
This article is not meant to be an exercise in Old Testament scholarship though. In addition to asking what we should call God, we can also ask what does God call us? Jesus answers this question in John 15:15 (NIV) when he says “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Songs are sung about this. Sermons are written about this.
But what would our lives look like if we let this title of ‘friend’ dictate how we relate to Jesus? A friend is someone who we trust, love spending time with, can’t wait to share things with, and much more. As I illustrated in the beginning of this post, language can be used to create—or keep—a proper transactional distance or it can bring about a closer relationship based on trust, intimacy and common ground. Maybe this is why the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray and cry out “Abba, Father,” bridging the gap between our sin, our suffering, and the forgiving God who is longing to bring is near to him.
Spend some time this week thinking on what words you use in your conversations with and about God. What do they reveal about you and your relationship with God? I have a theory that different denominations and generations have preferred terms for the Lord that they use in prayer or talk but it’s speculation based purely on patterns I’ve observed. However, if there are certain terms that elicit negative associations for you, be comforted that the Creator goes by many names. Remember, the words we choose to sing, say, and think create meaning and reality deeper than our awareness, defining the way we act and relate.
P.S. I used the word God 19 times in this 900-word article. Perhaps that reveals something about me.
Charlotte is on the Editorial team at boldcupofcoffee.com and currently works with a non-profit organization in Taiwan where she teaches, leads English Bible studies, writes educational materials, trains teachers, poses for pictures, and a bunch of other stuff too. She is originally from Canada, spending significant amounts of time in all three westernmost provinces and the idea of home has become quite fluid. She has learned that life overseas is not as exotic as people may think, but life with God is a daily adventure.
In 2005 Stephen Colbert launched a new word into the common vocabulary of North America during the premier episode of the Colbert Report. Only one year later this word would be deemed the “Word of the Year” by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. How does a word go from its first utterance on a popular TV show to word of the year that quickly? It must resonate with a large portion of the population, and become used in many different mediums. This word that Colbert created to describe what he saw happening in the world today, is none other than truthiness.
Colbert defined truthiness as the belief that a statement is true based upon the intuition or perceptions of the listener, regardless of any logic, intellectual examination, or facts that are contrary to the statement.
What’s fascinating, is that Colbert accurately recognized and promoted an entirely new ‘third category’ of truth. Now I’m sure we can look back through history and find the concept in many other decades and times, but in our recent memory and current culture, Colbert has the unique distinction of bringing this back into the common vernacular.
Allow me to give a two sentence recap of objective and subjective truth before I make the comparison to truthiness truth. An objective truth is something that is true no matter what a person’s experience is. For example, the statement; “humans need oxygen to survive” is objectively true because it is always true regardless of what we may believe on the subject.
A subjective truth is something that is true based upon one’s personal experience, e.g. “Starbucks is better coffee than Tim Hortons.” Now just take a beat and put down your pitchfork. remember that I said this is subjectively true, not objectively true. This is true for me based on my personal experiences and preferences. But if I try to force my subjective truth onto you as an objective truth, then I’ve crossed the line from truth into falsehood.
Then there’s the third category of what Stephen Colbert called ”truthiness,” a statement that purely feels true, but can have no basis in objective—or even subjective—truth. An example of this would be if I really passionately said to you “Sharks are the most dangerous animal in the world, they’re big, powerful, fast, can sniff out blood from miles away, and have jaws designed to tear flesh apart to maim and kill.” This might feel true, and maybe I’ve convinced you to accept this as true, but in reality the simple mosquito is way more dangerous to human life. (The World Health Organization estimates that 725,000 people per year die of mosquito borne diseases each year, a lot higher than the 6-8 deaths worldwide due to sharks.)
So if our world is constantly shouting a mix of objective, subjective, and truthiness truth at us, how do we figure out the difference so that we can be informed and educated?
I wish there was a simple test that I could give you that would figure it out and give you a green, yellow, or red light answer, but no such thing exists. Instead we have to discern and wrestle through the information we are presented with to decide what is true and what is false.
Discernment (the act of deciding what is true and what is not), can be difficult, but it is vitally important to having a clear understanding of the world. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but the current state of politics and world affairs is certainly bringing it to the forefront.
If we go all the way back in time to the New Testament letter to the Hebrew believers, we see this tension already happening. The recipients of this letter were a group of early Christians who were considering renouncing their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour, and returning to Judaism. After laying out the initial evidence for why Jesus is the Messiah in chapters 1 to 5, chapter 5 ends with this statement:
There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. - Hebrews 5:11-14 NLT (emphasis added)
I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be called “spiritually dull” and told that I “don’t seem to listen.” These words are a harsh rebuke, but the reason for this rebuke is that the recipients have not grown in maturity.
The effect of maturity is plainly laid out in verse 14: Mature believers are ones who have learned the skill of deciding between right and wrong, or in other words, between true and false.
Knowing the differences between what is true and false is not something that instantly happens. Discerning truth takes training and that it needs to be regarded as a skill to be developed with time and practice. We can’t just wake up one day and expect to instantly be able to cut through all the noise, falsehoods, and truthiness in the world to get to truth all by itself.
Part of the process of growing in our discernment of truth, means that we will encounter truth that makes us reevaluate our previously held beliefs and understandings. Sometimes our old view is simply wrong and must be replaced, or maybe it was just incomplete and will become resilient as we learn more about the topic at hand.
So how do we actually take steps to move forward to maturity and growing our skill as people who discern the truth?
I don’t think I have all the answers, but there are some common starting points that I hope you’ll consider acting on in your daily life.
1. If we want to see truth in the world, then we need to be truth.
Instead of starting with other people who may be spreading false content, start with your own actions. Ask this question: When I say something, post something, or write something, am I being truthful?
Take social media for example: We can’t control the actions of other people, nor can we control what other people or organizations say, post, or share. So say this with me: “I am not the internet truth police.”
But what I can do, is make sure that everything I say, write, post, and share online is true. Being an internet truth warrior who calls out and attacks content online, even if it is a blatant lie, rarely gets results. Sharing and promoting truth will always be more effective than attacking and tearing down what is false.
2. When we encounter ‘truth’ that makes us scratch our heads, ask questions that will get us to the truth.
Remember what Hebrews said about discerning right from wrong and true from false; this is a learned skill that is achieved through growing to maturity. When someone makes a statement, (be it in person, a blog, a tweet, or a Facebook post) that you feel unsure about, take the time to research it and get to the bottom of it. Asking questions and seeking out answers is how we learn, and as we learn we grow.
Part of asking questions is considering the source that the information comes from, and looking for collaborating sources. With how vast the internet is, it’s highly unlikely you’re the first person to ever ask this question. And as you dig toward the bottom and find truth, don’t be afraid of nuance. The truth we work toward may not be as simple and catchy as the tweet that gets reshared thousands of times. This means it will take effort to get past the sound bites, and into more thorough treatments of the truth.
If you want to avoid bias, look for multiple sources from different perspectives. If you’re looking into a news item, find multiple sources from different organizations and filter them against each other.
3. When dealing with social media, pause and ask: Does this need to be shared?*
This comes back to my first point about needing to be truthful if we want to see truth in the world. When it comes to social media we can click the share or retweet buttons in a fraction of a second, but if we pause to ask “am I promoting truth by sharing this post?” We could make a huge difference in the content that gets shared to our friends and family each day.
*Editor’s Note: Unless it’s from Bold Cup of Coffee, then it’s always good to share.
4. Don’t be a jerk.
Being a jerk is rarely equated with maturity. Even when someone is completely true and right about what they are saying, if they are offensive and a jerk about it, no one is likely to listen to them.
Now you might want to respond by saying “but isn’t it the most loving and caring thing to point out when other people are wrong?” Well yes, but this is only partially true. The true test of if you are being loving in your actions if the recipient feels loved by your actions. You may have all the best intentions in the world of being loving and honest, but if you’re a jerk about it, then no one will listen.
Remember this: We will have a greater influence in our culture by being truthful, than we will by tearing down untruths.
I hope that this gives you some framework and deciding what is true, and some first steps you can try in your daily life. Discerning what is true and what is false is a skill that is getting increasingly more important in the pace of today’s world. It will take effort on your part, but the result of that work can shape our world for the better.
Brian's whole understanding of faith and Christianity changed when he started to encounter what it means to live life with God instead of for God. One thing that Brian is passionate about is walking with people as they explore their faith in Christ and learning how to honestly seek God in the midst of our doubts and fears. Brian is the Pastor of Grand Valley Community Church in Brandon Manitoba. He is married to Nikki and they have one daughter named Olivia. When Brian isn't working on a sermon at a Starbucks or at home with his family, you can usually find him fly fishing or building model air planes. To read more of Brian's articles, click here.
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